Sticky trap carnivory discovered in western false asphodel (Triantha occidentalis)
The botanical world is being rocked by a new lineage of carnivorous plants described by Qianshi Lin et al. (August 2021)! Previous to this discovery scientists have recognized only 11 independent origins of plant carnivory—and now there is a 12th. This cryptic carnivore secretes a digestive enzyme from its annual flower stalk to supplement upwards of 2/3 of its diet.
Carnivorous plants have adapted to grow in places where nutrients are deficient. In western North America this often means peatland bogs. While carnivorous plants generate some energy from photosynthesis they supplement by trapping and consuming animals like insects and other arthropods.
It is so interesting to have personally known this species for years (it has been described by science for 100 years, and is also featured in “Wildflowers of California’s Klamath Mountains“) and then have this discovery emerge that flips our understanding of this species. It is also compelling to consider that, for a short time every summer, this species both preys on insects and enlists them for pollination duties at the same time!
The wonders of nature never cease to amaze—what will be the next cryptic carnivore to shift our understandings? Keep your eyes open and stay curious!