This Plant Becomes a Meat Lover When It Feels Like It


| LAST UPDATE 06/12/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Triphyophyllum peltatum carnivorous plant
Auscape / Contributor via Getty Images

There's actually a plant out there that goes carnivorous on a part-time basis. Yep, you heard that right. It's like having a plant that moonlights as a vampire. Introducing the Triphyophyllum peltatum, a rare plant from the tropical forests of Sierra Leone in West Africa. It's the only plant known to trap insects for a snack every now and then. Scientists have been scratching their heads trying to figure out what triggers its sudden hunger for bug meat. Well, guess what? A group of researchers from Leibniz University Hannover and the University of Wurzburg in Germany have uncovered some seriously intriguing details about this most unique plant.

Now, this plant isn't just fascinating for its occasional meat-eating habits. It also contains chemicals that could potentially fight malaria and even some cancers. Talk about a multitasking plant! When this plant is in its juvenile stage, it looks pretty normal - just your average plant soaking up sunlight and doing its photosynthesis thing. But as it grows older, it starts unfurling leaves with two hooks at the tip. These hooks help it climb to the top of the forest canopy where the sun is shining bright. And sometimes, the vine decides to sprout glandular leaves that drip fat blobs of sticky, blood-colored liquid. These droplets are like traps for unsuspecting beetles.

carnivorous plant weird science
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But here's the twist: this carnivorous behavior isn't hardwired into the plant's DNA like it is for other carnivorous plants, such as the famous Venus flytrap or those intriguing sundews. Some plants of this species never become meat-eaters. Scientists believe that T. peltatum turns carnivorous to survive in nutrient-deprived environments, like places where nitrogen is scarce. But the tricky part has been figuring out what triggers this bizarre transformation. It's been a real headache because this plant is notoriously difficult to cultivate.

But these persistent researchers grew T. peltatum from scratch using fancy lab techniques they learned from previous studies. They managed to raise sixty plants in vessels with soil deficient in different nutrients, like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. And guess what? Only the ones deprived of phosphorus grew those distinct, red-dotted, glandular leaves. Even with the results of this study, the unique and slightly strange tale of T. peltatum continues to fascinate researchers. Who knew plants could be so quirky? Nature never ceases to amaze us.

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