American Holly

American Holly
American Holly

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Those Animal-Eating Vegetables Part I

I love the idea of carnivorous plants.  These are plants that have adapted to highly acid soils, in which decay is very slow, leaving little organic material in the soil. So, to get their protein, several kinds of plants have developed special strategies for trapping and ingesting insects and other invertebrates. 

Hooded pitcher plants are common everywhere in the refuge, especially in the marshes. They are the only pitcher plants to be found along the auto tour.  They are just now reappearing, after a few weeks absence, after being mowed down to the dismay of people coming to find our unusual plants.  But now, if one looks closely, one can find individual stems growing back. 


Dead but colorful pitcher plant leaves

New pitcher leaf along the auto tour

New leaf among the old growing near the Purple trail. 

 While on my semi-lost trip on the green trail, I found a patch of newly erupted parrot pitcher plants. If you would like the details of how they catch bugs, click here. Great pictures there also. And they have a moth that lives inside them without getting caught. 


Parrot pitcher plants

Recently, as I was driving down the auto tour road, I saw hundreds of yellow plants blooming in a bar ditch. I had to stop and take their picture and then researched what they were. They were clearly floating on in the water and had leaves radiating out from the wire-thin stem.  A root mass could be seen growing under the water.  These are swollen bladderworts, Utricularia inflata.


Thick stand of  swollen bladderworts


Closeup of one swollen bladderwort, showing its wheel of leaves. 


Beautiful water patterns formed  by the bladderwort leaves early in the morning

They have tiny bladders on their leaves that have tiny trap doors.  When a invertebrate swims too close, the door opens and the water and animal flows in. The door shuts and the invertebrate gets digested. There are five species of bladderworts in the swamp, but I haven't discovered them yet. 

A little later, I noticed a group of yellow plants blooming in spaces between the saw palmettos. They looked a little like composites but had very strange leaves. The leaves looked like multi-armed stars stacked up in layers two deep. The leaves look a little like they were succulents and the edges curved up.  The leaves were also a very light, bright yellowish green. Each stem ends in a single yellow flower. 


Yellow butterworts

These plants are yellow butterworts, Pinguicula lutea, cousins of the bladderworts, that catch little bugs by secreting droplets of a syrupy substance that both attracts  and traps insects.  Then they are digested. 


Closeup of yellow butterwort flower


Leaf detail of butterwort flower - not too many bugs here to trap yet 

And just a few days ago, we started seeing purple flowers that are very similar in size and shape to the yellow butterworts. They are purple butterworts, Pinguicula caerulea. They both grow in sandy soils, but the purple butterworts may like soils that are a bit wetter. They have the same strategy for catching bugs and their basal leaves look the same.        



Purple butterwort