Thursday, June 9, 2011

DroSeRa ¨C DeLighTfuLL_BuT_DeadLy_DeW_DropS

DroSeRa ¨C DeLighTfuLL_BuT_DeadLy_DeW_DropS

Look closely, but be wary of touching. Those beautiful glistening drops of dewat the end of these plants are not quite what they seem. In fact, rather than being dew, that jewel of the earth, these gleaming globules are in fact mucilage

Mucilage is a thick, extremely sticky matter which is produced by most of the plants on the planet: in fact it is oozed out by some micro organisms too. Mostly it helps the plant to store water and germinate its seeds and is even usedas a kind of emergency food store in some plants. The Drosera, however, hasa much darker reason for producing mucilage.

You guessed it. The leaves of the drosera, the largest genera of carnivorous plants with over 194 species in its family, are studded with mucilage with dinner in mind. Once an insect alights upon this gummy substance it cannot break free. Without their freedom to find food they die and then the drosera supplements its diet with the minerals found within the insect¡¯s body. We will elaborate upon that process in a while, but first back to the quarry.

The insect will die of one of two things. Either it will exhaust itself and simply give up and expire of its own accord. Or they will ¡®drown¡¯. In most cases the mucilage over whelms them first. It envelops them and blocks up the insect¡¯s spiracles (an opening on their exoskeleton which allows air to reach its trachea). Either way death will mostly occur a maximum of fifteen minutes after first contact.

Despite its sinister nature (for a plant, at least) the common name of the drosera is sundew. Its botanical name is from Greek ¨C drosos ¨C which means dew or dewdrops. It is a beautiful name for a plant which, one has to admit, does have it in spades itself particularly when examined by way of macro photography as in the examples here.

Mostly perennial the plant forms upright rosettes which can vary in length from the tiny (around 1 cm) to almost a meter in height, depending on which of the 164 species you are looking at. Some species of sundew have adapted to climb and as such can reach up to 3 meters in length. Although they look some what delicate they are surprisingly sturdy and can reach an age of over 50 years

As the genera became specialized, over millennia, to take up nutrients in the form of the gooey remains of insects one of the species, the pygmy sundew, abandoned earth-bound nitrates altogether. It has, somewhere along the way, lost or abandoned the enzyme,nitrate reductase, it would need to take nutrition from the soil. Most retain the ability to take nutrients from the soil, however.

Drosera have glandular tentacles which are crowned by the mucilage directly ontop of and covering their laminae (the flat parts of their leaves). There are two glands involved in the capture, conversion and digestion of insects. The first is penduncular, which secretes the mucilage in the first instance. It is also thought that it exudes a scent that is attractive to the insects and which draws them to their fate.

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