The bulk of Kew’s carnivorous plant collection is held behind the scenes. However, this interesting group can be viewed by the public in a dedicated zone inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
Carnivorous plants in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
Did you know?
- Of the 600 or so species of carnivorous plants, 7 or 8 are native to Britain
- There is evidence that large tropical species of carnivorous plants are able to trap and digest frogs, birds and small mammals.
- Charles Darwin loved carnivorous plants and obtained specimens from Kew Director Joseph Hooker. Although the plants originated from Australia, Asia and America, they all looked very similar. Botanists at the time thought this was because they were related, but DNA studies have since revealed this is not true. They have simply evolved to catch their food in the same way.
About carnivorous plants
As well as the dedicated zone there are also some tropical species located in the main Wet Tropics section of the glasshouse. Carnivorous plants generally live on poor soils such as acidic peat bogs. Because they cannot obtain sufficient nutrients from the substrate, they trap animals such as midges and flies. Different species have adapted in different ways to enable them to do this.
For example, the venus fly trap (Dionaea) has toothed leaves that snap shut and trap its unsuspecting prey. Other carnivorous plants (such as Sarracenia, Cephalotus, Darlingtonia and Nepenthes) have pitchers with smooth, waxy interior walls. Insects are attracted to the colours and sweet secretions inside the pitcher but once inside they fall to the bottom, drown and are then digested. Plants such as the sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula) secrete sticky mucus to which insects readily stick.
Things to look out for
Kew’s specimens range from the flamboyant Saracenia leucophylla, which has tall, white-topped pitchers streaked with red or green veins, to the low-growing Australian sundew Drosera adelae, which has glistening reddish green leaves.
• Can you find out what the main threat is to wild carnivorous plants?
• Why not grow your own carnivorous plant at home? This can be an environmentally friendly way to control insects rather than using harmful fly sprays. Make sure that the plant you buy is from cultivated rather than wild stock. You can buy carnivorous plants in Kew’s shop at the Victoria Gate.
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