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Ask A Scientist

Does a Venus flytrap need water and does it make its own food?

Asked by: Michael Slilaty
School: Vestal Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Kim Dreslin-McAndrew
Hobbies/Interests: He enjoys swimming and playing the trumpet.
Career Interest: Scientist, trumpet player, musician, swimmer

Answer from Karl Wilson

Professor of Biology, Binghamton University

Karl received his Ph.D from University at Buffalo. His wife is also a faculty member at Binghamton and his daughter is currently in grduate school. Karl enjoys paleontology, photography, and cooking and you can find him on the web at http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~kwilson/home.htm.

An interesting question, about a very interesting plant!  The Venus flytrap is one of the carnivorous plants (sometimes called insectivorous plants).  These plants are distinguished by their adaptations to trap and digest small animals, primarily, but not exclusively, insects.  The Venus flytrap is native to bogs and wetlands in a small area in parts of North and South Carolina. Like all plants, it requires water, which it gets from its roots like most other plants. And like all other green plants, it carries out photosynthesis, producing sugars from carbon dioxide, water, and energy from sunlight.  However, the acidic soil that the flytrap grows in is relatively poor in available nutrients, especially nitrogen, and this limits the growth of the plant.  The Flytrap overcomes this limitation by capturing and digesting insects, spiders, etc. Its traps are the modified ends of its leaves, which also have glands that produce digestive enzymes.  The digested prey supplies the plant with nitrogen, primarily in the form of amino acids, as well as some required minerals.  These nutrients allow the flytrap to grow much more robustly than if it relied only on nutrients taken from the soil of the bog. The Venus flytrap is not the only type of carnivorous plant.  Indeed, a number of other carnivorous plants are found in bogs in New York, including sundews, pitcher plants, and bladderworts.  Each of these utilizes a different type of trap.  For more information on carnivorous plants you can look on the Internet.  Two good sites are:  http://www.botany.org/Carnivorous_Plants/  and  http://www.carnivorousplants.org/ .  You can also see several different species of carnivorous plants, including the flytrap, and many other interesting plants, at the Binghamton University greenhouse (http://biogreenhouse.binghamton.edu/index.htm ).  

Last Updated: 9/18/13