A Close-Up on Carnivorous Plants
by: Plant Adventures Program Specialist Brooke McMinn
A new adventure we began undertaking in the fall of 2014 is now complete! As of this summer, visitors to The Gardens are now able to see a conveniently located representation of a pitcher plant bog, or savanna, in the Arrington Plant Adventure Zone. A pitcher plant bog is a unique habitat created by an unusual combination of porous, infertile, strongly acidic soils, a high water table and an open tree canopy. A larger bog of similar type can be seen in our Kaul Wildflower Garden, but this new installation is part of our “Close-ups on Collections” program which features different elements of our larger garden collections in the easily accessible Plant Adventure Zone garden.
As part of our native plant conservation efforts at The Gardens, this new planting showcases several species of Sarracenia, a genus of carnivorous (meat-eating) plants. Sarracenia alabamensis, also known as the Alabama canebrake pitcher plant, is endemic to Alabama, meaning it does not naturally grow anywhere else in the world. S. alabamensis is classified as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Many of the other included species are also listed as threatened or endangered, each exhibiting their own special variations on the characteristic traits of the genus.
Pitcher plants are stunningly beautiful and grotesquely intriguing at the same time. The attractive venation, appealing aroma and unusual shape of the modified leaves lure unsuspecting insects into their depths. Once trapped inside a leaf, parts of the insect are dissolved in a small puddle called a phytotelma. The resulting solution of amino acids is then absorbed by the plant as food. This carnivorous modification is thought to result from the almost negligible nutrient content of the soils in which these remarkable plants grow. Other carnivorous plants which might be found in a pitcher plant bog, such as Dionaea muscipula (Venus flytrap) and Drosera sp. (sundews) are also included, along with an array of non-carnivorous native plants. If you are interested in touring the Plant Adventure Zone or would like more information, please contact Plant Adventure Zone Program Specialist Brooke McMinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.414.3914.