Given their popularity, it’s pretty likely that you once had a Venus Fly Trap in a tiny, plastic terrarium as a kid. So popular are the perennially hungry plants that their novelty status has made them a threatened species in some areas where it grows wild. While Dionaea muscipula, the plant pictured above, is fascinating as a carnivorous plant that feeds on flies, spiders and other small insects, there are others in the plant kingdom that are just as interesting. Though you aren’t likely to find many of them in a home garden.
Fascinating Plants: The Corpse Flower
Rafflesia arnoldii is distinguished as the largest individual flower on Earth. It grows in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra and can reach a diameter of 3 feet, and weigh as much as 24 pounds. But there is another distinct feature that makes this flower of interest: It smells like rotting flesh, earning it the nickname of “corpse flower.” The stench has a functional purpose, as it attracts flies, beetles and other insects for pollination.
The Rafflesia arnoldii is one of three national flowers of Indonesia, whose government officially declared it a “rare flower” in 1993. The unisexual flower received its present status because pollination is very difficult, requiring insects to visit both male and female flowers in that order. Plus, the flower lives for just a few days. Add to that the fact that the parasitic plant only grows out of its host plant, the Tetrastigma vine, and you’ve got yourself a plant that is as putrid as it is delicate. As humans encroach on more of the rain forests, the number of corpse flowers seems to be dwindling.
Fascinating Plants: Amorphophallus titanum
Indonesia has the distinction of having not just one but two plants commonly called “corpse flowers.” But unlike the Rafflesia arnoldii, which grows close to the ground, the Amorphophallus titanum can shoot up as much as 10 to 12 feet in the sky, with a trumpet-like spathe that, when it unfolds, reveals a central spadix reminiscent of a loaf of French bread. Others might make a different comparison. There is a reason the flower has “phallus” in its name.
The flower, also called the titan arum, blooms only a few times in its 40-year life cycle. When it does, it creates quite a stink, often attracting media attention. In its first eight hours of blooming, the plant emits a terrible smell like rotting meat with the deep maroon to purplish interior of the spathe completing the illusion of decomposing flesh. It, too, is meant to attract insects for pollination. Once the smell diffuses, birds are attracted to the flower’s bright colors, eating the seeds and spreading them to other locations for new growth.
Fascinating Plants: Gibba
Resting atop water, Utricularia gibba, commonly known as the humped or floating bladderwort, can look beautiful with delicate, yellow blooms. But the plant is a killer. Beneath the surface of lakes and ponds where it grows are networks of branches and bladder traps that suck in everything from insects to tiny crustaceans, which become its food source.
Having been called one of the most sophisticated mechanisms (carnivorous or otherwise) in the entire known plant kingdom, the sacs hanging from submerged branches have a hinged “door” and membrane that remain sealed by an equilibrium of pressure. But once it is touched by unsuspecting prey, the seal breaks, water rushes in and the plant’s dinner is sucked in as if by a vacuum cleaner. The carnivorous aquatic plant can be found on just about every continent.