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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Carnivorous Plants Get Creative

Author: Guest Writer/Sunday, January 15, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Carnivorous plants are true curiosities of the vegetable world. They exist in all environments but typically are found in waterlogged bogs or soils poor in essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. To compensate for these mineral deficiencies, carnivorous plants evolved sticky leaves, pitcher-like structures, and snap-traps to capture unsuspecting insects and bugs get stuck in the plant which then provides with the missing environmental nutrients. Some carnivorous plants are able to even trap and digest prey the size of mice and tiny birds. Charles Darwin was particularly interested in their nutrition adaptations and wrote an entire book on what were then called-- insectivorous plants. 

A new botanical discovery now extends the idea of carnivory down into the root systems of a plant, Philcoxia minensis. Philcoxia can digest tiny nematode worms due to specialized, underground, sticky leaves. The rare plant was discovered in the Cerrado, a vast savannah region in southern Brazil.


Philcoxia minensis 

(credit: PNAS)        


Leaf Surface with Sand Grain and Nematode

(credit: PNAS)

Rafael Oliveira, a professor of botany at Sao Paolo's State University, led the study and along with his research team showed that Philcoxia was completely eating nematode worms rather than just trapping them on the underground leaves to provide nutrients into the soil and roots as they decomposed. In a clever lab experiment, the researchers fed the plant with cultivated nematodes marked with an easily recognized isotope of  nitrogen, N-15. Subsequent analysis showed that the unique nitrogen atoms were absorbed into the plants tissues. Their research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The first species of Philcoxia were only collected in 1992 and other strange species will likely be found by further field work. Plants never cease to amaze a careful observer.



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