A New Carnivorous Plant

Qianshi Lin and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the University of Wisconsin – Madison were tipped off that western false asphodel (Triantha occidentalis) might be a carnivorous plant because it has a genetic deletion sometimes seen in carnivorous plants. The results of their research were published in an August 2021 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and show that western false asphodel is indeed carnivorous.

Most carnivorous plants trap their prey insects via modified leaves. Western false asphodel has a flower stem (peduncle) covered in sticky hairs near the inflorescence. These hairs produce a digestive enzyme, phosphatase, characteristic of carnivorous plants. There is no conflict between pollination and carnivory because the stem hairs only trap small insects like fruit flies, not bees and other pollinators.

Isotopic data demonstrates that nitrogen is transferred from the prey to the inflorescence and developing fruit tissue, ultimately migrating to the plant’s roots and rhizomes. This nitrogen is stored and carried over for next year’s growth. The researchers suggest that 64% of the nitrogen in the foliage is from the previous year’s carryover. Western false asphodel carries out photosynthesis and is carnivorous. The nitrogen from insects is more like a supplement rather than fulfilling the plant’s total nutritional needs. The data also shows that western false asphodel engages in carnivory only when the plant if flowering.

The photographs, taken in Dersch Meadow, Lassen Volcanic National Park (California), show the sticky western false asphodel stem and a small trapped insect.

I wonder how many more plants with sticky parts may eventually prove to be carnivorous.

Additional information about western false asphodel is available in my previous post (Western False Asphodel 10-18-21).

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