On a recent reporting trip out West, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of vicious carnivores, all soaking their prey in a corrosive mix of flesh-eating enzymes. In a California bog, I stood in a field of carnivorous plants. The sticky sundews held their sparkling, modified leaves just an inch or so off the ground, digesting insects ensnared in their numerous traps.
I was tagging along on a botany rescue mission to collect and preserve as many of the state’s rare and threatened plants as possible. One goal of that expedition: collecting seeds from the sundew. There are only a few known occurrences of the plant across all of California’s 160,000+ square miles. And in this case, the population is condensed to just two patches of floating muck, eking out an isolated existence.
Carnivorous plants showcase the splended oddities evolution is capable of. And although much about them remains mysterious, recent research has increased our understanding of why and how some plants flipped the script and started eating animals. Simultaneously, these meat-munching-marvels are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction, poaching, and climate change.
“Carnivorous plants face a double whammy,” Barry Rice, a botanist at UC Davis and an astrobiologist at Sierra College, told me in a phone call. “Not only are they facing all the stresses that all the other plants on the planet are facing, but they’re also, by their very nature, extra sensitive to it.”
So read all about them, before they’re all gone.