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Carnivorous Plants – Shaking up the Food Chain

11 Feb 2020 | By Author Thornybush | Wildlife

During your South African safari at Thornybush Lodges, you’ll discover that there’s more to plants than meets the eye. Not only is vegetation capable of fighting back with chemical weapons if need be, some plants take it a step further with an appetite of their own.

Eat or Be Eaten

Not content with passively extracting nutrients from the soil, carnivorous plants actively attract, capture and ingest prey. The best-known example of a carnivorous plant is the Venus flytrap (of The Little Shop of Horrors notoriety). The Venus flytrap is found in the subtropical wetlands of the Carolinas in America, but Africa has its own selection of around 65 interesting carnivorous plants.

Many of these are indigenous to the Cape and Drakensberg regions too, but you’ll be lucky enough to come across one of them during your safari to Limpopo.

Utricularia / Bladderwort

Some species of these water-borne plants are known to flourish in the waterways of north-eastern South Africa. Utricularia plants operate an underwater trap door system to trap micro-organisms in the water.

They are usually found in the shallow water of ponds and lakes in open montane and lowland habitats. On the surface, the plants look like yellow snapdragons.

Below the water, they trail long stems lined with lethal traps, ready to digest the unwary. Each of these sacs is about 5mm long and has an inward opening door on the business end. The plant is designed to pump water out of these sacs to form a partial vacuum. As soon as an unwitting small creature swims by and triggers one of the sensitive hairs surrounding the trap door, it springs open.

Water, along with the plant’s next meal are caught in the vacuum and the door slams shut. Digestive juices then flood the interior of the sac, allowing the plant to extract nutrients from its victim.

As soon as dinner is over, the whole process starts again.

Drosera – Sundews

There are several sundews that can call South Africa home but only one of these, Drosera burkeana, occurs in scattered patches across Limpopo Province.

Sundews are attractive succulent plants with flower-like leaves at their base. These long-stalked leaves bear fine hairs adorned in a drop of dew-like resin at the tip of each one.

Insects that are foolhardy enough to approach these flower-like traps become trapped in the sticky resin. The plant then releases powerful enzymes that help the plant to ingest the nutrients from the prey.

Booking your South African safari with Thornybush is the first step toward seeing amazing wildlife, be they omnivores, herbivores or carnivores you will see all kinds in action at Thornybush. Get in touch today.