The Venus Fly Trap, or Dionaea muscipula, is a carnivorous plant that still baffles and fascinates scientists and botanists today. It’s trapping structure is its key distinctive feature and is what gives it its menacing name.
The origins of the name go way back to 1769, to the eastern bogs of North Carolina and a man named John Ellis. John Ellis, a member of the East India Company who primarily dealt with the shipping of plants, discovered the Venus Fly Trap and was so taken aback that he wrote a letter to famous botanist Carl Linnaeus describing the plant. In that letter, Ellis named it Dionaea muscipula after the Greek goddess Diana (who the Romans called Venus) and with the muscipula Latin for â€˜mousetrap’.
The anatomy of the plant is fascinating too. Its evolutionary history isn’t entirely known since the plant hasn’t been fossilised as such, but scientists believe that the plant started out flowering far smaller in size on the ground and gradually grew bigger due to the size of its prey.
The Trapping Mechanism
The inner walls of the leaves are covered in nectar which attracts flies, insects and spiders to land there. There are three trichomes (hair-like spikes) that rest in the middle of the plant’s mouth which are, in effect, the Venus Fly Trap’s triggering mechanism.
If two spikes are touched within twenty seconds of each other or one spike is touched multiple times in quick succession, then the two halves of the plant close together and ensnare any prey in under a second. The trichomes are incredibly sophisticated as they can distinguish between living or inanimate objects very easily – whether it’s a drop of rain or the shell of a nut.
The edges of the plant’s leaves are covered in stiff hairs, called cilia, which interlock once the trap has been sprung, sealing the fate of the prey for good. What’s even worse for any poor insect that is trapped is that its struggles only make the leaves join tighter together.
Once the trap is tightly shut it turns into a stomach, whereby the secretion of enzymes such as oxidative protein modification break down and digest the prey. This can take up to ten days, depending on the size of the meal, after which time the trap reopens and spits out the exoskeleton of the insect – basically the insect’s outer body.
Venus Fly Traps can be grown at home but they are notoriously demanding plants to grow. They require a lot of sunlight (around four hours at least a day) and they also require distilled/purified water. They’re ideally planted in peat, sphagnum moss or other low nutrient soils.
For a more visual way of learning how the Venus Fly Trap works, watch this clip here.
If you would like to know more about plants to grow indoors then follow this link.
Would you consider owning a Venus Fly Trap? Let us know in the comments.
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