They're questions oft-typed into google: 'can a plant eat a human?' and 'how do carnivorous plants work?' The answer to the former is 'not as far as we know,' but the latter is a little more complicated. After all, plants don’t have brains or digestive systems that resemble our own - they can’t stalk prey or munch through their daily catch, can they?
The processes through which plants consume insects (and sometimes animals …) is automatic but by no means static. Carnivorous plants have built-in mechanisms which allow them to lure and trap prey.
Most well known amongst flesh eating plants is the Venus Fly Trap, with starring roles in films like Little Shop of Horrors and John Wyndham’s classic novel Day of the Triffids. German researchers closely studied these plants and found they changed their behaviour according to the frequency with which they were stimulated. When the spikey tips of the Venus Fly’s traps sense motion, they prime themselves and open; as motion increases, they fill with digestive enzymes (a bit like salivation), and finally clamp shut on the unsuspecting insect.
And it’s not just insects either: some of the larger pitcher plants, found in Southeast Asia and Australia, have been known to gobble up fully grown mice and frogs. The remains of a dead shrew were found in the Filipino flesh eater, Nepenthes attenboroughii, (named after everyone’s favourite naturalist). It was only formally documented in 2009, after missionaries reported seeing giant Nepenthes in remote Filipino mountains.
We have our very own Nepenthes in stock, if you’re brave enough to take one home. Our Monkey Cups – or pitcher plants – are pretty damn cool to look at, even if you didn’t know they catch their own prey. Their long glossy green leaves give way to delicate (fly-eating) cups. These cups are designed in such a way that flies will easily slip down the shaft but will be unable to clamber out again. At the base of each cup is a pool of enzymes which will DISSOLVE live matter and drain it of nutrients.
Unfortunately, just because your Monkey Cups can catch its own dinner, doesn’t mean it won’t require your attention. The plants should only really be given rainwater and their cups should be filled about a 3rd of the way, at all times. They also need a little rainwater in the soil, but only once a week in summer and once a fortnight in winter.