An Enrichment Post: Those Amazingly Awe- Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

One of the best gifts I received this holiday season was a PBS documentary video called, “Plants Behaving Badly”, in which two types of amazing plants – orchids and carnivorous plants –  are described in detail. I am lucky that my husband indulged me with this item on my wish list.

Plants Behaving Badly

Home alone on Saturday afternoon, I sat mesmerized by this DVD. Well, I did not really sit; I was working on making some jewelry. But, the video kept pulling my attention to it!  Wow! I was thrilled with this gift!  The first part, carnivorous plants, offered a lot of material on this group of diverse plants that share the process of evolving in different ways in order to survive in poor, nutrient – lacking soil.  For the last 10 years, I have taught a carnivorous plant unit to my garden club students at the school my boys all attended as elementary students. This year, I am leading a new group of students in a new, larger school district, about 20 minutes from my home. This week, I will introduce them to the amazingly awesome world of carnivorous plants!  Although I knew much of the content in the video from my own research and reading over the years, it was still very informative, entertaining, and awe-inspiring! Although the school district is larger, my group is much smaller. So I have spend some time this week re-vamping my unit. I was pleased to find that the video offers a few clips via You Tube that I will share with the students later today.

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A Summary of Carnivorous Plant Types

There are four main types of carnivorous plants.  Snap traps like the Venus Fly Trap are active plants that actually have developed the ability to move to catch their prey.  Another group, Pitcher Plants, are passive traps. This means they do not move, but their prey is attracted by the scent of sweet nectar and gorgeous colors to come closer and closer to the rim of the “vessel” or pitcher part of the plant. There, the unsuspecting ant, fly, or even occasional frog or mouse, slips and falls into the bottom part of the pitcher. Big deal, you say, they could just climb out!  But, no!  Nature has designed this plant to have slippery insides, many with a fatal reservoir of acidic, digestive enzymes, and downward pointing hairs to prevent the insect’s crawl up to the opening where they fell from and into the plant, in the first place! They are trapped, drown, and are digested by the fluid in the plant’s vessel. The third type of carnivorous plant is the sundew. Sundews are also tricky, luring their prey in with  “beads” of fluid that appear AND smell like nectar globules glistening in the sun, inviting a hungry insect with the false promise of a tasty meal. Once the insect steps onto the globules, he is stuck! It is not nectar at all, but a sticky glue type substance! What is even more fascinating is that some of the sundew plants are active traps and move their tentacle-type structures to encircle the prey once it is stuck. From there forward – well, you know what happens! The insect dies and the nutrients are absorbed into the plant to sustain it. Respectively, the pitcher plant is a pit fall trap and sundew plants are sticky traps. The video did not really cover Bladderworts, which are an example of a fourth type of carnivorous plant that lives underwater, sucking into it like a vacuum any tiny, unsuspecting aquatic organism that happens by.  Most likely, footage of the gorgeous Nepenthes pitcher plants in Borneo, a variety of which is known to be the largest pitcher plant in the world, displaced coverage of the small, underwater carnivorous plant that literally sucks!

Using Awe as a Teacher

I am, and have been, awed by these plants for many years. And, my experience is that students are awed by them as well.   The sense of awe is a great teacher! I try to use it as often as possible when I am teaching students about our natural world.  Many students have heard of the Venus Fly Trap, but might not have seen one.  I always try to bring an actual plant to share during our lesson. Luckily, I found a local store on Saturday with some in stock. Unfortunately, the two plants I have currently do not have traps. I think they are in their period of dormancy induced by cooler weather and shorter days. Venus Fly Traps are indigenous to only one place in the world, and that is the sandy forests of North Carolina, near the coast.  It is here that I introduce students to an uglier side of human nature – the activity of poaching and those who poach. Unfortunately, since carnivorous plants are so cool, people do strange things, like steal and sell the stolen plants.  In the U.S., the Venus Fly Trap is protected, so I let my students know that if they ever visit North Carolina, they cannot just pick up a plant and bring it home to Wisconsin! There are more protected varieties of carnivorous plants in other parts of the world, too.

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Plants are amazing living entities! I know my former group of students could see how passionate I was about plants and our earth during my lessons, I hope the same for this new group! Only, time will tell! But, a large slice of my life is spent on lessons like today  – those Amazingly Awe-Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

Post written for Slice of Life Tuesday sponsored by TwoWritingTeacher.org blog.

Thank you!

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