A Wizarding World’s Snarling Trap
“’Stop moving!’ Hermione ordered them. ‘I know what this is – it’s Devil’s Snare!’” When reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone years ago, I loved the imagery of this chapter because I think carnivorous plants are strange, creepy, and, yet, fascinating. Prior to her commanding order, the book states, “She lept up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had to struggle because the moment she had landed, the plant had started to twist snakelike tendrils around her ankles. As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers without their noticing”
In this novel, Devil’s Snare was guarding the path to the sorcerer’s stone. This fictitious plant lived in dark and damp areas and used its tentacles to grab onto people and animals. As things struggled the tentacles constricted tighter and tighter, eventually suffocating its victims, and stealing their magical energy. This fictitious plant acts like some of our very real carnivorous plants, many of which are native to parts of Northeast Florida.
What is a Carnivorous Plant?
Why do carnivorous plants exist? Carnivorous plants evolved throughout the plant kingdom and researchers generally agree carnivorous plants evolved due to a lack of nutrients. In areas of low nitrogen or phosphorus, plants would have the inability to survive. Therefore, some plants evolved to consume insects to get the necessary nutrients. In our part of the world, many carnivorous plants are within wetlands and bogs.
Florida’s Carnivorous Plants
When we think of carnivorous plants, we may think of Venus flytraps or Audrey II. Although we may find the Venus flytrap in Florida, it is endemic to North and South Carolina. Throughout Florida, we find significantly more carnivorous plants, including various species of pitcher plants (Sarracenia), sundews (Drosera), bladderworts (Utricularia), and butterwort (Pinguicula). Each has evolved in different ways to consume its prey.
Pitcher plants formed upright tubular modified leaves that act like pitfall traps and thrive in wet, boggy landscapes. The leaves secrete nectar to attract insects. As insects land at its opening, they slip on a waxy substance and fall into the digestive enzymes within the plant. Six species of pitcher plants exist within Florida-which is more than anywhere else in the United States.
Sundews thrive in mucky, boggy soil. Unlike pitcher plants, tiny hairlike tentacles that secrete stick sap cover the sundew’s leaves. The sticky sap attracts insects, and they get stuck. Once stuck, the leaf curls up and uses its enzymes to break down the insect.
Bladderworts often resemble algae floating within lakes, ponds, wetlands, or bogs. In fact, it’s one of Florida’s aquatic carnivorous plants that is found within waterbodies of low pH and low nutrients. Bladderworts have very tiny bladders that quickly inflate as small, aquatic invertebrates swim by and touch little triggering mechanisms that are like a flytrap. Although a bladderwort’s suction is so quick, it accelerates its prey to nearly 600 times the force of gravity. Humans pass out around 8 Gs.
Butterworts are closely related to bladderworts but look like sundews. Butterworts are low-growing herbaceous plants with leaves that grow in a rosette pattern and have small, beautiful purply flowers. Their leaves act like sticky paper and do not roll up or fold up like other carnivorous plants. As the stuck insect wiggles, the butterwort secretes an enzyme to break it down.
Carnivorous Plants at Home
Carnivorous plants are protected species throughout the state. Luckily you can easily find some available at our local nurseries so you may plant them at home. Plant them in rain gardens that receive lots of light and moisture. You can easily plant them in containers, too, by providing a moist growing medium and plenty of sunlight. If kept indoors you may need to catch your own insects to feed them. A few insects a month should be plenty. If fed too much they could die or you may hear them begin to say, “Feed me, Seymour.”