Encounter: The insectivorous Pitcher Plant

Imagine a non-vegetarian plant. One that gets tired of humdrum photosynthesis and craves to munch on bugs once in a way. It actually gets so bored that it yawns, and along comes an unsuspecting insect. And… burp!

Well, that’s the culprit in your picture. Looks tame, doesn’t it?

I have always wanted to keep a pitcher plant, and perhaps that’s the reason why this specimen of Nepenthes at the Botanical Garden in Yercaud is kept, like a bad-tempered animal, behind a mesh-walled cage. So I didn’t nick any pitcher plants from there, and nobody was at the office to tell me how I could keep one at home. Next time, perhaps.

Originally a resident of the northeastern hills, this plant was obviously an exotic. And that may explain the maximum security accorded to it.

The ‘pitcher’ is actually a modified leaf blade. The bright colours attract insects. Those hard to persuade by first appearances are lured by a gummy honey-like substance secreted at the surface of the lid. Once drawn in by the plant’s charms one way or another, the insect is doomed. The inner walls of the pitcher are slippery, and the struggling prey slowly falls down. The inner walls also secrete an enzyme that can digest protein.

If Ram Gopal Varma had some imagination, he’d be making a movie on insectivorous plants. But he seems to be interested in hotels lately. M Night Shyamalan, then? Maybe, maybe not. Were Hitchcock alive, I could imagine a sequel to The Birds titled, in the same eerie lettering, ‘The Plants‘.

That would have been one hell of a motion pitcher!

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