According to the Free Dictionary, a carnivorous plant is one that is “adapted to attract, capture and digest primarily insects but also small animals”. There are over 500 different kinds of these meat-eaters – all with different types of appetites and ways of catching their prey. The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula for all of the Latin lovers) is one of the more well known of these plants.
The Venus Flytrap can be found mostly on the coastal plains of the Carolinas in the US. This gruesome plant attracts prey by a stylized process of seduction and betrayal. The leaf produces sweet-smelling nectar; the unsuspecting prey (fly, spider, etc.) is drawn in and ends up rubbing up against what are called “trigger hairs”. If one or more of these hairs are touched more than once rapidly, the leaf closes on its prey in a fraction of a second, and voila – dinner time. The plant is also able to distinguish whether or not its dinner guest is something edible and digestible and reacts accordingly.
Now what happens if a curious human decides to poke his finger, or a pencil or other object into one of the leaves? Or what about flying debris such as stones and sticks? Unless there is a serious thrashing about, the leaves will either stay open or partially close. Curious people who wave a finger around rapidly inside one of the leaves determined to get a reaction may receive first-hand knowledge of what happens next. But this isn’t the “Little Shop of Horrors” – the experimenter won’t get eaten.
And how does the Venus Flytrap get its meal? When the leaf closes, it forms an air-tight seal so that everything stays in and nothing else comes in. This explains why an over-curious finger won’t get digested – the trap can’t form an air-tight seal on something that sticks out from the leaf.
Now the digestive fluids go to work. The soft tissues of the dinner guest are broken down by these fluids and the food is dissolved and assimilated – much like a human stomach. But it takes up to 12 days to digest its dinner, depending on the size of the food.
The leaves can only be used so many times to attract prey. After 10 or 12 closures, a leaf loses its ability to close, and that part of the plant now behaves just like any other plant. But there’s no need for concern about the life of the plant – it can easily generate new leaves when needed.
What about the name of the plant – “Venus Flytrap”? One can understand the “flytrap” portion of the name, but what about “Venus”?
The plane was discovered in 1763 and got its name a few years later. That name had nothing to do with the planet Venus. The name came from naturalists and nurserymen with perverted minds who considered that the plant “seduced” its prey much in the same way that a woman seduces a man – with her beauty and sweet scent. Honest. This rather obscure and novel naming convention was discovered only fairly recently when letters between the learned participants were discovered.
Be that as it may, the Venus Flytrap remains one of the more interesting plants in the country. Just don’t stick your finger in one. Just kidding.