Beyond Photosynthesis: The fascinating world of carnivorous, parasitic, and strange plants

Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, via Unsplash

By Connor Fleck

Plants are some of the most interesting organisms on the planet, but most people stop thinking about them after their biology class lessons.  Plants are so much more interesting than an eighth grade lesson on photosynthesis though.

There are many different kinds of plants.  Some try to survive off limited resources while others evolved to try and spread their species as much as possible.

Carnivorous plants are some of the most exciting types of plants.  These plants are often seen in sci-fi or fantasy works as dangerous challenges the protagonists must overcome. However, there are numerous carnivorous plants that exist in our own world and not just a fictional alien planet.

Carnivorous plants have evolved to cope with the absence of nutrients in the soil where they commonly reside.  Although most species feed on insects, some eat even larger creatures such as mice and birds.  

These plants have evolved many different species and many different ways to catch prey, with the most well-known being Venus fly traps, which lures insects in with a fruity scent.  Some species such as nepenthes attract insects with their delicious nectar which lures them into an acidic liquid with similar characteristics to quicksand. Others emit a stench reminiscent of rotting bodies that entice flies to lay eggs that will never hatch.  Some plants have even evolved little hair-like triggers that let the plants know when to close their jaw like appendages.  

There are many other plants that aren’t quite carnivorous, but they are parasitic.  One such plant is a dodder.  Dodders range in many colors from orange to pink.  These plants rise from the ground just to wrap around other plants.  Once they’ve done this they begin to sap the life out of the plant almost like a vampire.  These plants are a farmer’s nightmare.

Similar to dodders, the ghost pipe makes their homes on fungi.  These gloomy white plants get their name from their color and droopy flowers.  Once thought to be a fungus themselves, these plants look very strange compared to other plants due to their lack of chlorophyll.  These plants are very delicate, killing them if they are pulled from their spot.  Shortly after blooming, these plants wilt away in an attempt to spread their seed.

Another strange plant is the burning bush.  When temperatures reach a certain heat, the oils that this plant produces ignite, burning much of the surrounding area.  It has evolved to do this to reduce its competition and spread its seed.

As you can see there are so many beautifully strange plants that have many different functions and characteristics.  Oftentimes these plants have evolved to either survive or spread their seed, while still maintaining their elegant appearance.