The Fascinating Appetite of Carnivorous Plants

The Fascinating Appetite of Carnivorous Plants

The Florida Panhandle is teeming with carnivorous plant species. In fact, there are more here than any other place in the United States. This isn’t surprising considering that they thrive in wet, sunny conditions. Carnivorous plants typically grow in the nutrient-poor soils of bogs and wetlands, and over time, evolved a very clever way to acquire their own nutrients. These plants trap and digest insects and other critters as a way of getting vital nutrients, such as nitrogen.

There are several different types of carnivorous plants native to Florida, including six species of pitcher plants (Sarracenia), five species of sundews (Drosera), fourteen species of bladderworts (Utricularia), and six species of butterwort (Pinguicula). Venus flytraps are endemic to North and South Carolina but have been introduced to Florida. Each type of carnivorous plant has its own unique way of capturing its unsuspecting prey.

Pitcher plants emit an attractive nectar that lures insects to the lip of the pitcher, where they then slip and fall inside. Once at the bottom of the pitcher, tiny hairs prevent the insect from crawling back out to safety. The trapped insect will either drown in accumulated rainwater or die from exhaustion. Digestive enzymes are then secreted by the plant and the insect soon becomes a meal for the pitcher plant. Read the UF/IFAS publication, Native Pitcherplants of Florida ( to learn more about our native pitcher plant species.

Like the pitcher plants, sundews emit a sweet smell that entices insects to come near it. Sundews are covered in a sticky mucus-like substance that is filled with digestive enzymes. Once the insect lands on the sticky plant, the tentacle-covered leaves of the sundew curl around it and suffocate the insect before digesting it.

Bladderworts are different from all other carnivorous plants because they live submerged in water and are completely rootless and free-floating. They are found in bodies of water low in pH and nutrients. To supplement their nutritional intake, they have tiny “bladders” attached to their submerged leaves that suck in microscopic invertebrates. Each bladder has tiny hairs at the opening that are triggered when potential prey swim by. When the hairs are triggered, the bladder sucks in water and prey like a vacuum.

Butterworts catch their prey in a similar fashion as sundews. They have green, succulent-like leaves that are covered in microscopic hairs. These hairs produce a sticky substance that traps passing insects to the leaf. Like all the other carnivorous plants listed above, digestive enzymes are released and the nutrients from the insect are absorbed by the plant. Butterworts are also known for their beautiful, long lasting blooms that attract many pollinators.

Through the evolution of carnivorous abilities, these specially adapted plants are able to thrive in areas where most plants would not survive. Unfortunately, many of these species are threatened due to urban development, wetland habitat drainage, competition from invasive species, pollution, and from over-collection by humans and the plant trade. Therefore, it is important that we protect carnivorous plant species and the ecology of their wetland habitats.

If you’re interested in growing carnivorous plants, you can help protect them by only purchasing plants and seeds from reputable sources that grow sustainably from non-collected nursery stock.

Savannah Atwell is a Master Gardener Volunteer with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at

*repost from our very own Savannah Atwell published by the Leon County Extension Office. Original article posted HERE