Pitcher Plant Symbiosis

The carnivorous plant Nepenthes rajah has developed a mutualistic relationship with mountain treeshrews.

The treeshrews perch themselves on the rim of the trap and eat the nectar produced on the lid. As it feeds, it defecates into the basin.

Pitcher plants get nutrients from digesting trapped insects, and in this case shrew droppings. This is an adaptation to the nutrient poor soils which they grow in.

Chi'en Lee on Wikipedia Commons


Whitetop Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) in bloom.

Pitcher plants are found in nutrient poor seepage bogs, made up of mucky acidic soil . The carnivorous nature of these plants is an adaptation to the lack of nutrients in the soil. 

Blackwater River State Park, FL

Sarracenia leucophylla, White top pitcher plant in habitat, variant B, Conecuh National Forest, Covington County, Alabama, US | ©Brad Wilson

Sarracenia leucophylla (Ericales - Sarraceniaceae) is found in wet savannahs in the southeast USA, from northeastern Florida to eastern Mississippi.

S. leucophylla pitchers are green with the top quarter being white with red or green veins. Pitchers produced in the spring are narrower and not as white as pitchers produced in the fall. Under extremely warm conditions, this species may produce phyllodia (pitcherless leaves) in the middle of the summer. The flowers are deep red.

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Sarracenia rubra is also referred to as the ‘sweet trumpet’, because of its small red flowers which are fragrant to variable degrees. These clump-producing plants commonly branch into multiple growing points and can therefore form masses of pitcher leaves. The combination of abundant pitchers and multiple flowers in spring, enhanced by their perfume, can make a showy spectacle.

Celiacs rejoice! Bug-eating plant enzymes could hold key to gluten digestion
'The idea here is that you would take it like Beano,' says David Schriemer

Calgary scientists have made a breakthrough that could help celiac patients digest gluten with the help of an enzyme from bug-eating pitcher plants.

Pitcher plants are like “disposable stomachs” that are filled with an enzyme-rich liquid that helps them digest insect prey, explained lead researcher David Schriemer.

The professor at the University of Calgary says preliminary research shows the enzymes in these so-called monkey cups are “enormously potent” in breaking down gluten, and could work in a human stomach.

Schriemer said in a few years’ time, people with celiac disease could take a pill containing these enzymes, which would allow them to fully break down gluten.

“The idea here is that you would take it like Beano,” he said.

“We’ve taken it all the way through to animal trials at this point, and it seems to work.”

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