Metro Parks Tacoma

Carnivorous Plant Tour

Carnivorous plants are one of the wonders of the botanical world. They appear to cross over to the animal kingdom because they eat animals, namely insects. The carnivorous nature of these plants is not an anomaly. They contain a series of adaptations that exist in a large number of other plant groups – it is the combined nature of these adaptations that defines carnivorous plants.

In 1753 Carl Linnaeus identified six of the genera that define carnivorous plants; we now know there are 17 genera. Living organisms (e.g. plants) are categorized into families which are subdivided into genera, and then species. The genus (genus is the singular form of genera) name is the first part of a plant's scientific name.

Features that define carnivorous plants include having an attraction device, a trap mechanism, a killing device, and methods of digestion and absorption. Trapping devices include adhesion, "snap" traps (such as the Venus' Fly Trap), and pitchers for containing prey. These plants specialize in storing their prey. They attract insect prey through color and ultraviolet pigments, sweet or pungent odors, or rewards such as nectar.

The genera grow worldwide. Their diverse habitats extend from freezing climates to tropical forests.

Carnivorous plants have diverse physical forms in response to surviving in low-nutrient areas. While most carnivorous plants are perennials, a few species live their entire lifecycle within one growing season. When insect prey disappear in the winter snows, some plant species will survive to emerge again in the spring when there is an abundance of insects.

For more on carnivorous plants see:
The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Peter D'Amato, 1998
The Conservatory Education Committee designed, researched, and photographed this carnivorous plant tour in 2005.

 Askian Pitcher Plant (carnivorous) in Seymour Conservatory. Asian Pitcher Plant / Plant Family: Nepenthiceae / Genus and Species: Nepenthes truncata
Ethnobotanical Facts: This species grows some of the largest pitchers in the world – up to 18 inches long. It traps and digests insects to obtain nutrients not found within the iron-rich but nutrient-poor soils it grows in. It can tolerate cooler temps than most Nephenthes species and it grows really slowly when young. This plant, due to its very thick leaves and pitchers, can tolerate lower humidity levels than most Nepenthes. Its compact, non-viney form reflects its adaptation to living in open habitats.
Observe: The heart-shaped leaves are technically described as "truncate," thus its name, Nephenthes truncata.
Native: A lowland species found in the Philippines
Butterwort carnivorous plant in Seymour Conservatory. Butterwort / Plant Family: Pinguicula / Genus and Species: Pinguicula Moranensis
Ethnobotanical Facts: This plant has carnivorous leaves that are a sticky mess for insects. Small flying insects and soil gnats are easy victims for the butterwort. When the small insects get stuck to the tacky leaves, a gland secrets acid and enzymes dissolve the them. The hungry butterwort reabsorbs the nutrient rich fluid. Pinguicula means "little greasy one" in Latin.
Observe: Notice the translucent hairs which secrete a sticky glue to catch the small insects.
Native: Central Mexico
Cobra Lily carnivorous plant in Seymour Conservatory. Cobra Lily or California Pitcher Plant / Plant Family: Sarraceniaceae / Genus and Species: Darlingtonia californica
Ethnobotanical Facts: The cobra lily grows in bogs and along trickling streams where its roots are kept cool by moving water. Nectar glands outside the hood and on the fishtail-shaped appendage hanging in front of the pitcher's opening attract insects to enter the hood. The upper leaf has many transparent areas that insects confuse for exits. Many insects ingest the nectar and escape, but some fall into the liquid at the base of the pitcher and drown. Bacteria decompose these insects, as this species does not secrete digestive enzymes.
Observe: The pitcher-rounded head and forked tongue resembling a cobra ready to strike.
Native: California and Oregon
Schnells' Ghost carnivorous plant in Seymour Conservatory. Schnells' Ghost or White Trumpet / Plant Family: Sarraceniaceae / Genus and Species: Sarracenia leucophylla
Ethnobotanical Facts: This plant belongs to the pitcher plant family. The pitchers are filled with liquid that attract insects. Once an insect is trapped inside the pitcher, it is slowly digested and the plant consumes the insect for minerals. Schnells' Ghost produces two crops of pitchers, one in late spring and the other in September. The species has a flowering season from mid-March to April. The flowers are bright red and look like pinwheels.
Observe: The white colored pitchers that trap insects. Schnells' Ghost looks like grass when no pitchers are produced.
Native: Southeastern U.S., especially Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi
Pitcher Plant (carnivorous) in Seymour Conservatory. Pitcher Plant - Nepenthes maxima / Plaqnt Family: Nepenthaceae / Genus and Species: Nepenthes maxima
Ethnobotanical Facts: This carnivorous plant attracts insects by secreting nectar. The modified leaves, or pitchers, are insect traps. Insects drink the nectar produced at the pitcher's rim, become intoxicated and fall into the pitcher, where they are digested and used as a source of minerals and nutrients that are missing from the soil. In the Odyssey, Helen of Troy gave nepenthes potion to soldiers to remove sorrow and grief, this inspired Carl Linneaus when he named the genus in 1737.
Observe: The similarities and differences between the upper and lower pitchers. See how the upper pitchers are more funnel shaped and have more intricate designs to attract insects.
Native: A highland species found in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Australia
Pitcher Plant (carnivorous) in Seymour Conservatory. Pitcher Plant - Nepenthes mixta / Plant Family: Nepenthaceae / Genus and Species: Nepenthes mixta
Ethnobotanical Facts: These carnivorous plants are known to become quite large and aggressive. They need a lot of light and high humidity. These pitcher plants are hybrids of Nepenthes northiana (a lowland species that grows where days are hot and nights are warm) and Nepenthes maxima (a highland species that grows at altitudes over 3,000 feet where days are warm and nights are cool).
Observe: This pitcher plant has small pitchers that are bright green and red, with bright red peristomes. Eventually these tiny pitchers can grow to 24 inches. The Nepenthes mixta at the conservatory is young and just beginning pitcher development.
Native: This hybrid is not native to any location because is it was created by mixing the qualities of two different pitcher plants.
Asian Pitcher Plant (carnivorous) in Seymour Conservatory. Tropical or Asian Pitcher Plant / Plant Family: Nepenthaceae / Genus and Species: Nepenthes ventricosa
Ethnobotanical Facts: This carnivorous plant uses its pitchers to collect food. The insects that are digested by the plant provide necessary nutrients because these plants grow in soil that lacks many nutrients. Hairs inside the plant hold the insect captive until enzymes are able to digest the prey. Certain types of flies and mosquitoes make their homes in pitcher plants using the water collected by the plant as an area in which to lay eggs.
Observe: Pitchers have wide traps and are hourglass shaped. The leaves as well as the pitchers range in color from almost all green to almost all speckled red.
Native: A highland species is found in the Philippines
Venus fly trap plant in Seymour Conservatory Venus' Fly Trap / Plant Family: Droseraceae / Genus and Species: Dionaea muscipula
Ethnobotanical Facts: This carnivorous plant, described by Charles Darwin as "one of the most wonderful in the world," was named after Venus, the goddess of love. Many early scientists believed the Venus' Fly Trap was a mythical species, until physical proof of its existence was delivered. Like other carnivorous plants, it lures prey with sweet nectar. Unlike the others, however, it captures its victims with the greatest of speed and enthusiasm. When one of the sensitive hairs on the plant's leaves is triggered by prey, the clam-like hinged leaf snaps shut in less than one-tenth of a second! Modern scientists have recently discovered that this quick action is made possible by the plant's ability to bend its rubbery leaves into a convex shape, like a tennis ball that has been flipped inside-out.
Observe: The clamshell-like traps may be closed if an unwary insect has recently been caught for dinner.
Native: Coastal North and South Carolina

Adriene L. Brown, Tacoma Community College
Carson Grieve, Grant Elementary
Sue Habeck, Tacoma Community College
Kathy Heimann, Blix Elementary
Tod Lokey, School of the Arts
Amy Ryken, University of Puget Sound
Kathie Stork, Geiger Elementary
Lila Transue, Bellarmine Preparatory

Adriene L. Brown, Tacoma Community College

Book Design
Amy Ryken, University of Puget Sound
Megan Fish, University of Puget Sound