Science fiction movies have popularized exotic, man-eating plants. While the existence of such plants has never been documented, plants which capture and digest insects are known throughout the world. The New Jersey Pinelands has three types of these interesting and unusual carnivorous plants.
This plant gets its name from the goblet or pitcher shape of its large purple leaves. These leaves can hold water and are the death trap to insects. Glands in the outside surface of the leaf produce nectar which attracts insects. At the top of the leaf, the glands are so numerous that the leaf is wet and slippery. An insect attracted to the sweet nectar will quickly lose its footing and slip hopelessly into the bottom of the pitcher. Escape is impossible because the inside of the leaf is lined with stiff hairs which point downward, preventing an insect from crawling out. The fluid in the leaf contains digestive enzymes. The more insects which fall into the trap, the more enzymes the plant produces. Nitrogen from the insects is taken in through the walls of the leaf and used throughout the plant.
Pitcher plants grow in wet areas and are usually found in association with sphagnum moss. Sarracenia purpurea is the only species of pitcher plant found in the Pinelands.
In addition to being an insect eater, these tiny plants are able to move. While not as dramatic as the Venus Fly Trap, a sundew can slowly enclose its victim. In fact, sundews are also known as "active flypaper"
Each leafblade is covered with tentacles. At the tip of each tentacle is a round, red gland which produces a clear, sticky fluid called mucilage. These moist droplets sparkling in the sun light may be what attracts insects, since sundews do not produce nectar.
Once an insect is caught on the sticky mucilage, nearby tentacles bend toward it, pushing the victim toward the central zone of the leaf where more digestive glands are located. In some cases, the insect is completely wrapped in the leaf. The glands secrete enzymes which combine with a weak acid in the mucilage and digest the victim within 24 to 48 hours. After this process is complete, the tentacles return to their original position.
Sundews, like pitcher plants, also grow in sphagnum bogs. There are three species in the Pinelands: threadleaf, spatulate leaf, and the less common roundleaf.
It is not surprising that at least ten species of bladderworts are found in the Pinelands. This large genus has about 250 species worldwide.
Most bladderworts are found in water or moist areas. These plants lack true roots. Instead, they have long stems, or stolons, which produce modified leaves. Below ground level, usually underwater, are bladder-like traps with a one-way door to catch tiny swimming creatures or microorganisms. Within the bladder, is a partial vacuum so that when a victim comes close enough to touch protruding hairs, the door opens inward and the creature is swept in. Within two hours, the vacuum is restored. Eventually the captive dies and is digested.
Below is a list of bladderworts found in the Pinelands.
Fibrous (Utricularia fibrosa) common
Zigzag (Utricularia subulata) common
Horned (Utricularia cornuta)
Rush (Utricularia juncia)
Swollen (Utricularia inflata)
Humped (Utricularia gibba) rare
Hidden fruited (Utricularia geminiscapa)
Purple (Utricularia purpurea) rare
Reversed (Utricularia resupinata) rare
White-flowered (Utricularia olivacia)