First new carnivorous plant identified in 20 years found in BC

Flower actually a carnivore

The first new carnivorous plant identified in 20 years is causing quite a stir among botanists and brings to mind the movie, 'Little Shop of Horrors'.

Not only does it trap and eat its prey, but it was discovered right here in our own backyard.

The Triantha occidentalis may seem like the perfect place to perch if you’re an insect, but get trapped in its sticky hairs, and it will suck the nutrients from your dead corpse.

The new plant was discovered by the University of British Columbia and University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

“Carnivorous plants have fascinated people since the Victorian era because they turn the usual order of things on its head: this is a plant-eating animals,” said co-author Dr. Sean Graham, a professor in the department of botany at UBC. “We’re thrilled to have identified one growing right here in our own backyard on the west coast.”

The plant grows in nutrient-poor, boggy but bright areas on the west coast of North America, from California to Alaska. For the study, the researchers investigated specimens growing on Cypress Mountain in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

The research builds on previous work in Dr. Graham’s lab, which found that Triantha lacked a particular gene that is often missing in other carnivorous plants.

In order to investigate if the plant was indeed partial to snacking on insects, Dr. Lin attached fruit flies labelled with nitrogen-15 isotopes to its flowering stem. The label acted like a tracking device, allowing Dr. Lin to trace changes in nitrogen uptake by the plant.

He then compared the results with those from similar experiments on other species that grow in the same area, including a recognized carnivorous plant (a sundew) and several non-carnivorous plants as controls.

Isotopic analysis showed significant uptake of nitrogen by Triantha, which obtained more than half its nitrogen from prey –comparable to sundews in the same habitat, and other carnivorous plants elsewhere.

The study also found that the sticky hairs on the Triantha flower stalk produce phosphatase, a digestive enzyme used by many carnivorous plants to obtain phosphorous from prey.

But if you’re tempted to recreate the film, 'Little Shop of Horrors', or bring Triantha home to deal with pesky summer fruit flies, the researchers warn the plant doesn’t do well outside of its natural environment and advise admiring its quirks from a distance.

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