For the first time in 20 years, scientists have discovered a new type of carnivorous plant, which is pretty cool all on its own.
This little specimen of insect-eating flora, however, also is unique in two other significant ways: It uses a mechanism to trap its prey never before observed among its fellow carnivorous plants, and it’s a common flower in the Pacific Northwest that appears to have been hiding in plain sight for years.
This leaves scientists wondering how many other unique carnivorous plants are out there that simply haven’t been examined closely enough.
Earlier this month, researchers published their report on the discovery of the new lineage of plant carnivory represented by the Triantha occidentalis, or western false asphodel, a plant first described in scientific literature in 1879, as NPR noted.
Yet as botanist Sean Graham from the University of British Columbia told the outlet, scientists initially had “no idea” it was carnivorous.
“This was not found in some exotic tropical location, but really right on our doorstep in Vancouver. You could literally walk out from Vancouver to this field site,” he said.
The Triantha represents a new lineage of such plants and uses a mechanism to trap and digest its prey that scientists have never observed.
“Its trap is unique among carnivorous plants and, unexpected based on theory, in placing all of its prey-capture sites next to its insect-pollinated flowers,” the scientists wrote. “Given the existence of Triantha in close proximity to major urban centers on the Pacific coast, our study serves as a vivid reminder that other cryptic carnivores may yet remain to be discovered.”
Graham and his team were conducting unrelated research on plant genetics when they noticed this little bog flower had a genetic deletion that occasionally is seen in carnivorous plants.
The flower also lives in an environment where other carnivorous plants live — the famous Venus flytrap, for instance, grows in areas where the soil usually is moist or wet year-round. However, while we typically think of carnivorous plants such as the flytrap gobbling up their prey, the false asphodel has a different hunting method — a sticky stem.
Scientists began to wonder if this was its mechanism of trapping bugs for consumption.
To test if the plant was subsiding on insects, Qianshi Lin, a researcher at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, fed nitrogen-15 isotopes to fruit flies and stuck them to the plant’s stem, according to NPR.
The nitrogen served as a tracker, and sure enough, the flies ended up inside the plant. In fact, it seemed the false asphodel was getting over half of its nutrients from its tiny prey.
When the team checked out preserved false asphodels in herbariums, according to NPR, they found tiny, dead fruit flies stuck to their stems.
They also found that the stem produces a digestive enzyme deployed by already known carnivorous plants.
What makes the false asphodel unique, however, is that all known carnivorous plants use modified leaves to capture their prey; this little guy uses his sticky stems.
While the trapping mechanism observed in most carnivorous plants is far away from their flowers so as to prevent interference with pollination, in the false asphodel’s case, its sticky stems can only trap minuscule bugs such as fruit flies and midges and not larger insects like the flies or bees that typically play a role in plant reproduction, according to NPR.
One of the cool things about this story is that it sheds light on the fact that, in this era of unprecedented scientific discoveries and innovation, something as small as a common bog-dwelling flower can still surprise scientists.
It’s vital to remember that the cult of science-worship is just that; it’s an ideology more influenced by social thought than science.
The natural world is full of secrets that we have yet to discover — including the fact that it is far less pure and innocent than this cult mentality would lead us to believe.
Just as polar bears at the North Pole that still have ice to lounge on decades after we were told their lives were in peril are a lot less cute when they’re tearing flesh off a seal they’ve hunted and killed, the pretty little false asphodel also was hiding a deadly secret in plain sight.
The longer I live in God’s glorious creation, the more I realize how much there is to learn about it — and how foolish humanity is to think that we’ve learned all its secrets.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to worship the One who created the natural world rather than the fleeting, often contradictory conclusions of those who make a practice of observing its characteristics.
Clearly, we probably should stop pretending that “the science” is as infallible as the Creator.
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