NPR logo The Vegetarian's Dilemma: Carnivorous Plants

Daily Picture Show

The Vegetarian's Dilemma: Carnivorous Plants

Maybe it's macabre, but the blood-eating Venus flytrap from Little Shop of Horrors always fed a fascination in me. I once had a friend with a miniature potted flytrap and that, too, was really creepy and cool. A coworker once had one as a pet. I mean, the idea of a carnivorous plant is so counterintuitive, so freakish, it almost shakes the bedrock of my commitment to vegetarianism. If a plant can eat animals, why would I only eat plants? I blame an article in the March issue of National Geographic magazine for shattering my worldview.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration. But this article has definitely rekindled my fascination with these anomalous plants. It explains how a specimen without muscles or nerves actually uses electricity to sense movement. Sometimes, in the case of pitcher plants, for example, they have the help of other critters and bacteria to break down their prey, and then they simply absorb the remaining nutrients.

Although definitely the Schwarzenegger of the plant world, carnivorous plants are quite inefficient. They devote most of their energy to an excessively elaborate digestive process. They're also endangered; in addition to environmental concerns, poaching for black-market sales threatens their existence.

Article continues after sponsorship

The plant portraits in the story were taken by Germany-based Helene Schmitz, whose interest in plants surpasses mine tenfold. In 1999, she traveled to the island of Ven, Sweden, to photograph what remains of the garden of 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe. And her book, A Passion for Systems, explores the sexual reproduction system of plants, as originally outlined by Carl Linnaeus.

The article is well worth a read if you're interested in how — and why — the plant digestive process works. Otherwise, at least check out the rest of the photos.

Also: an obligatory nod to early animatronics.

Have an idea? Pitch it!

The Picture Show on Facebook or on Twitter