CURIOUS CARNIVOROUS PLANTSby@scientificamerican

CURIOUS CARNIVOROUS PLANTS

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The arum Dracunculus is one of the most curious of that wonderful series of carnivorous plants which at the present time are engaging the closest scrutiny of naturalists. It is a true trap in one sense—inasmuch as it captures the victim which ventures near it; but it relies on little or no mechanical means for securing its prey, but stupefies the living insect by its odor. The flower is horn-shaped, about 11 inches in length, with an opening some 5 inches in diameter. The color within is a dull dark violet, while the interior of the spathe is lined with black, hooked bristles, the whole appearance of the flower being thoroughly repulsive. The illustrations herewith presented, Figs. 1 and 2, represent it at one third its natural size, Fig. 2 showing a section of the flower. It is not certain what attracts the insects, which are usually of the species known as the meat fly and the common house fly. They do not seem to seek for the small quantity of nectar concealed, and yet they cluster about the fatal opening, as if drawn by some overpowering fascination. Overcome by lethargy, they fall inert upon the flower, are lightly held by the bristles, and finally die asphyxiated by the carbonic acid which the plant disengages in large quantities during its inflorescence. Strange as is the action of the arum, the method whereby the mentzelia takes its prey is even more wonderful. To illustrate on a magnified scale, let the reader imagine a surface thickly covered with strong iron posts, on the sides of which are numerous keen barbs pointing downward. Then between these posts, suppose that jars overflowing with honey are placed. An elephant, let it be imagined, attracted by the profusion of sweetness, inserts his trunk between the posts and finds easy access to the honey. But while he can force his proboscis downward past the barbs turned in that direction, when he attempts to withdraw it he finds the keen points catch in the flesh, and render it impossible to do so. A terrible struggle follows, the unfortunate animal twisting and writhing in every direction, until finally by an Herculean effort the head is torn from the body, and the latter becomes digested by some potent gastric juice, exuding from the colossal organism of which the trap forms but a portion. Of course this is vastly exaggerated, and it would puzzle an elephant to pull his own head off; but if for the post studded trap, we substitute the surface of a flower, and if we replace the elephant by a fly, we shall have conceived an accurate picture of what takes place in the peculiar receptacle with which Nature has provided the mentzelia ornata. This is very beautifully shown in Fig. 3; and at A, in same figure, is represented the barbed bristles grasping the highly magnified proboscis of the fly. Between the barbed bristles are mushroom-shaped projections, from the summits of which a viscous nectar exudes. This is the honey bait which induces the insect to insert his trunk between the fatal barbs. There is still another plant, physianthus albens, which captures butterflies by grasping the proboscis. The construction of the flower is quite complicated, so that the insects are compelled to insert their trunks through a narrow and winding passage in order to reach the nectar. The organ then necessarily comes in contact with an adhesive substance, which prevents its removal.

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