Science

6 carnivorous plants and where to find them

Plants have roots to absorb nutrients and they can photosynthesize sunlight to produce their own energy. Animals rely on ingesting plants, whether directly or indirectly, to convert to energy. That’s the main distinction between flora (plants) and fauna (animals). Some plants, however, have adopted a strategy from the fauna playbook and “eat” living animals.

Carnivorous plants typically grow in areas where the soil is lacking in nutrients. They’ve adapted to this lack of soil nutrients by ingesting animal life, mostly insects, to provide the nutrients they need. Check out these six carnivorous plants and where you can find them.

Venus flytrap

Venus fly trap
Credit: yakonstant/ Shutterstock 

Perhaps the most famous of all carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap, officially Dionaea Muscipula, is native to a small region of North Carolina and South Carolina. They grow mainly in wet, mossy areas. Contrary to popular belief, carnivorous plants aren’t entirely carnivorous. Like most plants, they still rely on the sun for most of their energy. Venus flytraps feed on small insects to provide additional nitrogen to help them grow in poor soil conditions.

The trapping action is so quick that the insect inside doesn’t have time to escape. Before it realizes what happened, it’s trapped inside by the spines. Glands inside the leaf then start to secret an enzyme that breaks down the insect for digestion. After about 10 days, the insect is completely digested, and the leaf reopens to catch another victim.

Waterwheel plant

The waterwheel plant, also known as Aldrovanda vesiculosa, is a carnivorous plant similar to the Venus flytrap, but instead of growing on land, it grows in the water. It has no roots at all and just floats on the water’s surface. When an insect enters the “mouth,” the plant clamps down on the victim with lightning speed. Waterwheel plants enjoy feasting on mosquito larvae.

They are found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, although they’re considered extremely endangered in the wild. They can, however, be bought online. It’s not uncommon for people to grow them in their homes.

Bladderwort

Yellow bladderwort plant with flowers rising from the water
Credit: Luka Hercigonja/ Shutterstock

Similar to the waterwheel plant, the bladderwort, also known as Utricularia, lacks roots and also floats on water. Where they differ from their carnivorous cousins is the way they eat.

Instead of using two leaves as a “mouth,” bladderworts use hollow sacs to catch their prey. Each plant has hundreds of sacs stretched out over horizontal stems. The plant pushes water out of the sac to ready the trap. When an unfortunate insect larva, aquatic worm, or water flea gets too close, the sac opens, creating a vacuum that sucks the nearby water inside along with its snack. The bladderwort is considered the quickest plant on Earth and can open and close in 1/35 of a second. The trap can be reset within 15 to 30 minutes.

Bladderworts can be found in streams, lakes, and waterlogged soil throughout the world. In many areas, they’re considered an invasive species.

Sundew

Up close view of delicate sundew plant with fly trapped
Credit: Cathy Keifer/ Shutterstock

There are over 130 different species of sundew, and they all look unique. They can be as large as a small bush or as tiny as a penny. They can have long grass-like leaves or look like an exotic flower. While every species is different, one thing they all have in common is the way they catch their prey.

Sundews, also known as Drosera, are commonly referred to as “flypaper plants.” Tiny hairs protrude from the plant’s leaves, and each hair secretes a sticky substance that looks like a drop of dew. When an insect touches one of the hairs, it gets stuck. The more they struggle, the more hairs get stuck to them. Eventually, the leaf folds over and completely envelops the insect. Now, digestion can begin.

Sundew plants are found in tropical and temperate regions all over the world, but they’re most common in Australia.

Butterwort

Butterwort with insects stuck to leaves
Credit: NNehring/ iStock 

While most carnivorous plants often have a creepy, otherworldly appearance, butterworts look like any other flower. Some people even keep them in their homes for their beautiful colors. What sets them apart from the flowers in your garden is that these plants are hungry for insects. When insects land on the leaves and get stuck, the plant emits enzymes and acids that break down the prey. Once liquefied, the plant absorbs the nutrients.

Butterworts can be found all over the world, but the greatest number of species have been found in Mexico. In cold regions, butterworts go dormant during the winter months. In warmer climates, the plants stop producing their sticky enzymes and actually become non-carnivorous for a few months.

Pitcher plant

Carnivorous pitcher plant in the wild, hiding in tall grass
Credit: Lano Lan/ Shutterstock

Unlike Venus flytraps and waterwheel plants that actively attack their prey, pitcher plants prefer a more passive method of hunting. Pitcher plants are long tubes with a pool of digestive enzymes in the bottom that form a pitfall trap. At the top of the opening is a small lip where insects are attracted to the nectar, but this nectar comes with a catch: It’s toxic. The stunned insects drop into the pit, a waxy coating on the inside of the tube prevents any chance of escape, and anything unfortunate enough to fall into the trap is digested.

Different varieties of pitcher plants can be found on every inhabited continent on Earth. Some of the largest pitcher plants can be found in Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Australia.