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When plants attack: Carnivorous plants of the U.P./Brian Hess


July 13, 2012
By Brian Hess - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

When you hear about carnivorous plants, most people automatically think of the Venus flytrap. Well, unfortunately we are a little farther north than their typical range.

We do, however, have a couple of carnivorous plants of our own, the pitcher plant and the round leaved sundew. Both of these plants can be found in peat bogs along the lakes and rivers in our area.

Pitcher plants can be spotted this time of year by a round red to purple globe like flowers that extend about a foot above the plant. The plants' leaves form cups or pitchers that are typically filled with water. Rainwater collected by the leaves is used, with the help of enzymes excreted by the plant, to digest insects. An odor in the water attracts insects to investigate the pitcher. After an insect climbs in, small downward pointing hairs that line the inside of the pitcher prevent the insect from escaping. The insect drowns in the liquid and is slowly digested by the plant.

Sundews are usually in the same area as pitcher plants. They are only about an inch or two tall, so it isn't as easy to spot them. Their leaves, typically, green to red, have small hairs that secrete a sticky dew-like substance. When an insect lands, they get trapped in the sticky substance. The leaf then folds over the insect to digest it.

Sphagnum peat bogs contain very few nutrients for plants to survive. These two plants have adapted by becoming carnivorous to supplement their needs. Both plants have been used by indigenous people for various medicinal uses including using the pitcher as a cup for drinking. I have read about people using the pitcher to drink from, and with the exception of ingesting the occasional dead bug, have had no negative side effects. I have personally never experimented with either of the plants.

I have observed these plants along the marshes lining various lakes in the area. If you area really interested in seeing these unique plants, I can suggest at least one place to view them. On the western end of Emily Lake, located just south of Twin Lakes, is a large floating sphagnum bog. This bog contains both of these species in abundance. Although you can hike to this bog from land, it is best accessed from a watercraft. I use a canoe most of the time when I am exploring.

A word of caution if you do decide to venture onto the bog; most sphagnum bogs are floating over an unknown depth of water or muck. Walking across them requires a little attention so that you do not break through. A partner and a walking stick should always be with you to ensure you have some way to check if the 'ground' is solid enough to walk on and if you break through, you have somebody around to help you get out of it. If you want to go the extra mile, wear a life jacket to at least keep you floating if you break through.



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