Friday, January 13, 2012

New carnivorous plant

Remember the genuflecting plant I blogged about in September? Well, this newly discovered one has an even neater trick. It may not look like much above the savannahs of its Brazilian habitat (1st image), but beneath the sand the Philcoxia minensis extends sticky leaves (2nd image) that ingest nematodes (3rd image, microscopic view, more here). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this plant eats worms! Though this article suggests that it gobbles up earthworms, nematodes are typically less than 2.5mm long and the underground leaves are only about the size of a pinhead. But this is enough to qualify Philcoxia minensis as a carnivorous plant in the ranks of the Venus flytrap, the pitcher plant, and the bladderwort. Like the Venus flytrap, P. minensis lives in nutrient-poor soil and has leaves equipped with stalk-covered glands that help detect prey, so researchers suspected that it was using its subterranean leaves to capture animals. "We usually think about leaves only as photosynthetic organs, so at first sight, it looks awkward that a plant would place its leaves underground where there is less sunlight. Why would evolution favor the persistence of this apparently unfavorable trait?" asks plant ecologist Rafael Silva Oliveira. He and his colleagues at the State University of Campinas in Sao Paolo, Brazil, used chemical analysis to determine that the plant was absorbing nutrients directly from the worms rather than from the surrounding soil. Their study proves that P. Minensis is among the mere .2% of flowering plant species known to digest meat.

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