Nature, since the dawn of existence, has always been governed by the empirical laws of cause and effect, adaptive evolution and the survival of the fittest with a powerful focus on the continuation of the species. Mankind has been on a quest to understand and compartmentalize the living world ever since he acquired enough grey matter to develop scientific curiosity. All creatures with body hair and delivering live young are therefore mammals and all organisms that prosper due to their harnessing of edaphic features like sunlight, soil, water and air are therefore plants. We like our natural world nicely packaged and have spent centuries arguing how the packaging should be applied. Experts in this are called Taxonomists and they love changing their minds!
There are always exceptions to every rule though. Some mammals, the monotremes of Australia, actually lay eggs! And there are plants that attract and feed off of live prey! They are usually rooted in nutrient poor soils and require the extra input from live food to compensate for this. Several of these carnivorous curiosities occur in tropical forest where rainfall and humidity are in abundance but sunlight and fertile soils are not. Pitcher plants and the enigmatic Venus Flytraps are two good examples of the equatorial group.
There is a group well represented and yet frequently overlooked in Southern Africa. They grow in montane regions primarily and are found throughout the Drakensberg and even on top of Table Mountain in the Cape Peninsula. They are called Drosera and are more commonly known as Sundews. Drosera are tiny…growing in damp, shaded patches often in close association with mosses on the slopes of mountains where shallow soils have lost their fertility. They are delicate and quite beautiful when viewed through a magnifying glass.
They derive their common name from the stalked mucilaginous glands that cover the surfaces of their leaves. These glands exude a sticky nectar that insects cannot resist. This sticky secretion is both attractant and snare. The mucilage entraps the unwary insect and slowly clogs the creature’s spiracles…eventually asphyxiating it. A variety of enzymes are then secreted turning a once recognisable arthropod into an easily digestible nutrient soup.
Plants surround us when we venture outside. They add colour and texture and scent to our sensory outdoor experience. Some of them harbour a dark side however and quietly and invisibly set about the business of murder.