The Woodland Garden at the Nature Preserve is a work in progress. We now have two bridges over the brook, if you haven’t been by lately, and stones line with waterway. Just above the basin at the end of the brook is a new bog featuring some truly unusual pitcher plants. No, you don’t use them to get a drink from the stream. Contradictory to what we often think, the pitcher plant does not really look like the one we have in the fridge. Rather, most of them resemble goblets of all shapes and sizes! And they EAT insects!
With its deeply folded leaves, the cup-shaped plant stores up a sweet-smelling juice which lures an unsuspecting insect into its mouth. And when it is about to sip…an unfortunate thing happens.It falls in. Unable to climb back, this fallen insect flails helplessly in the fluid until it loses energy and submits to the overpowering force of its fate. See the fine hairs along the lip of the plant? They line the entire cup, and once an insect enters, it can’t climb back out again.
So what happens to the ill-fated insect? Much like animals, the pitcher plant “eats” the poor thing up. How does this seemingly harmless plant do such thing? The secret lies in the juice. This liquid is no ordinary nectar. It actually contains chemicals (similar to those found in the stomach) that could slowly munch and swallow the skin of its prey until it dissolves completely—becoming the very juice that it once tried to drink.
How did the pitcher plant become meat eating? It actually took millions of years before simple, harmless leaves became carnivorous. Yes, it is the mysterious and wonderful product of natural selection! Nature itself favored the growth of leaves with larger dents until it became what we know today. The plant “evolved” because those that adapted to eat insects survived the poor and acidic soil conditions, obtaining the necessary proteins, nitrogen and other minerals it couldn’t just absorb from the soil like other plants.
The good news is, these are small plants and will not shout out “FEED ME!” like Audrey II did in Little Shop of Horrors! You are still safe walking through the Nature preserve!