Rising up from the sphagnum mounds, an alien spaceship like flower hangs above one of North America's few carnivorous plants - the purple pitcher plant.
There's a lot going on with these plants so let's start with the basics and go from there...
Why do these plants only grow in bogs?
Bogs and carnivorous plants were made for each other. The lack of oxygen and nutrients in the water is okay for these types of plants since they derive nutrition from the insects they eat. Since other plants can't "catch" their own food and since the water doesn't have the nutrients needed, other plants can't grow in these areas leaving them open to these unique species.
How do they catch their food?
The pitcher plant collects rain water in the 'pitcher' and slowly waits for insects to come get a drink. The angled hairs inside the pitcher work to keep insects that have crawled or flown in - in the plant. Evidence suggests only 1% of the insects that venture into this trap actually fall in the enzyme rich water in the pitcher and become food, the other 99% simply fly, crawl, saunter, strut, their ways out.
How do they 'eat'?
The pitcher plant secretes digestive enzymes into the rainwater in the 'pitcher' that breaks down the nutrients from the (few) insects that fall in (much like the enzymes in our stomaches). The nutrients are then absorbed by the plant - instead of absorbing nutrients through the roots.
Tell me more!
There are at least two insects that actually use the pitcher plant as a breeding location! "A community of microorganisms eventually develops in the water at the base of the pitchers. These microorganisms live on the nutrients of the decaying insects, and may actually increase the nutrients available to the plant by further digesting its prey. The microorganisms are themselves prey to at least two species of carnivorous insects – the larvae of a mosquito and the larvae of a midge – which complete their life cycles in the pitchers. For some reason, the digestive enzymes secreted by the plant affect neither species."
There's a lot going on under the alien-like flower in the calm, still, pitcher plants.
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.