Scattered through the pages of history, in fable and folklore, strange tales of wild and wicked plants abound. As the stories go, these terrifying plants are capable of snatching animal victims and greedily devouring them.
Do such carnivorous wonders of the plant world really exist? Are the fantastic reports that periodically have seeped out from the jungles of the Amazon, the hidden valleys of Indonesia, and the hot, dark heart of \frica just legends? Do gigantic plants that thrive by eating animals and birds at will still thrive in some remote, unexplored parts of our planet?
I've always been curious about such things. After all, not long ago a tribe of Stone Age natives—the Tasaday—that should not still exist was discovered in a remote jungle of the Philippines. Perhaps there are some plants, left-over relics of the long-gone dinosaur days, still lurking somewhere.
After more than twenty years of traveling the world, corresponding, researching, studying, and writing about carnivorous plants, I must give a qualified "yes" when asked if such strange plants really do exist today. There are in fact many truly exotic and bizarre meat-eating plants lurking in distant corners of the globe. Some, not so very far away.
The largest known species can actually catch and devour birds, rodents, and similar unsuspecting prey. Not only can, they do. Among the nearly five hundred types of carnivorous plants already known, some have an exceptional and surprising ability to lure, catch, and digest their insect, animal, and fish dinners.
Fortunately for us all, despite my best efforts this past quarter century, I have never found those man-eating "monster" plants so popular with science fiction writers.
Perhaps in other times, imaginative tellers of tall tales found eager ears for their early versions of science fiction stories. The plants they de scribed so vividly actually do exist—though not nearly as exaggerated as the stories made them out to be —quite capable of snaring unwary insects with sticky tentacles, swiftly snapping shut to trap a small fly or moth or frog, or drowning their victims in their soupy broth.
Fact is, in all my travels and years of study of this wide range of botanical wonders, I haven't met a carnivorous plant I didn't like. Not yet, anyway.
Even so talented a scientist as the famed naturalist Charles Darwin was fascinated by these botanical wonders. Among them, one stands out. Darwin himself described the Venus flytrap, that can snap shut to catch its insect meal in a split second, as "the most wonderful plant in the world."
His experiments with the flytrap and others with similar carnivorous habits remain the foundation for all future studies of these plants.
There are hundreds of plants that have this unique and amazing ability to lure, catch, and eat insects and small animals. Some can even manage a small bird or two as part of their diet.
Today, many of these fascinating plants can be domesticated. You too can marvel at their feats when you grow them as house plants, in terrariums or as conversation-provoking plant pets.
Actually, a number of the larger carnivorous plants can be cultivated quite easilv. Your friends will be amazed at their versatility, not to mention their agility. After all, how many times do they see an entire collection of plants merrily devouring gnats, flies, moths, mosquitoes, and other forms of animal life.
Whether you just want to know a bit about these legendary meat-eating plants or plan some serious studies of their curious abilities, you can enjoy hours, even years of pleasure with the most wonderful plants in the world.
To help you with your studies or just plain fun gardening with these captivating plants, I have gathered as much scientific and practical information as possible. From my years of personal experience, research, and interviews with others involved with carnivorous plants, I hope you will find new horizons in our green growing world.
We have concentrated on those plants which are not only, for most people, the most interesting, but which also are most easily grown. Some types are difficult to obtain. Other, highly unusual species just don't respond well except under special and somewhat difficult-to-main-tain conditions.
For those of you with inquisitive minds, we have also compiled suggested study projects, from simple feeding tests to more complex science projects. As you expand your own growing horizons and perfect your horticultural skills, I hope you will add to the needed store of information on this fascinating field of carnivorous plants. Good luck and good growing.
ALLAN A. SWENSON
Windrows Farm Kennebunk, Maine
Cultivating Carnivorous 'Plants
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