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A DEADLY FASCINATION; Not only do carnivorous plants thrill kids, but their shape, markings and flowers make them things of great beauty; IN THE GARDEN.

Byline: DIARMUID GAVIN

Carnivorous plants aren't a group that gardeners tend to give a great deal of attention to, regarding them as something out of science fiction.

However, if we do ignore them, we are missing out on some fascinating species that have evolved over many thousands of years and which have fairly distinctive characteristics involving looking for nutrients in different places.

Through amazing mechanisms they have developed the ability to trap insects and, in some cases, small animals.

They're not completely alien to us. Did you know that there are species that are native to and grow freely in the wild in parts of this country? As a method of amazing youngsters about the wonders of horticulture and the plant kingdom they have no equal.

Young eyes widen in fear and amazement as the Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) snaps its jaws tight on its victim. Imagine plants that could eat you!

Many of them are also very beautiful with remarkable foliage and flowers and have a place in our ornamental gardens.

Take sarracenias for example. These pitcher plants are among the hardiest, especially Sarracenia purpurea, the purple pitcher plant. This species attracts its prey by emitting a sweet nectar. Creatures enter the plant and lose their footing on the waxy surface and slip to the bottom of the funnel where they are digested by plant enzymes.

From the wetlands of North America, these plants have been known to devour frogs and lizards as well as slugs and insects. Their insect-eating ability is a natural adaptation to growing in very low-nutrient, boggy soil where there is little other nourishment to be found.

So, if you wish to grow these in your back garden, those are the conditions you need to mimic.

The best environment might be the edge of a pond or you can create an artificial bog with pond liner, punctured with some holes for minimal drainage.

You will need a mixture of peat or coir and perlite or washed sand to create a lownutrient compost. Sarracenias like to be in the sunshine and you can also grow them in containers on windowsills or in glasshouses but need to keep their roots permanently in water.

They won't need feeding - they will survive on insect life alone. If keeping indoors, water only with rainwater as what comes out of our taps will be too alkaline for them.

They also need a cold period in the winter to rest, so move to an outdoor cold area, such as an unheated glasshouse or a shed, for a little while.

Other hardy sarracenias include Sarracenia flava, the elegant yellow pitcher plant, and Sarracenia leucophylla, the white trumpet, which has exquisite white markings at the top of the pitcher. All have very beautiful, nodding flowers in spring.

The common butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, a British native, is also an insectivorous plant.

Its fleshy leaves are covered in a gluey substance that traps insects that have the misfortune to land on them. These are then slowly consumed by the plant excretions.

Growing wild in bogs, it produces a lovely bright violet flower. Growing conditions indoors and outdoors will be similar to sarracenias - boggy, low-nutrient conditions - but they also like to have some shade during the day.

To find out more about these fascinating creatures of the plant world, pay a visit to the Princess of Wales Conservatory in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London (kew.org) where you will find many amazing examples of both tropical and temperate flesh-eating flora.

Young eyes widen in fear... imagine plants that could eat you!

CAPTION(S):

CARNIVORES Elegant Sarracenia flava, left, and the native common butterwort

TRAP Attractive meat eater, the Darlingtonia, attracts insects with a sugar bait

JAWS The Venus flytrap digests its prey

SNAP SHOT Venus fly traps at Down House, Kent, fascinate young visitors
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2014
Words:641
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