Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, part two

Carnivorous plants, 11 August 2017

As I wrote in the first part of this report, on 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos. The slide the photo of which is on top of this blog post describes carnivorous plants as ‘living flypaper‘.

Carnivorous plants through a microscope, 11 August 2017

In his book on carnivorous plants, Darwin also included pictures of plant details as seen through a microscope.

Sundew leaf, on 11 August 2017

Like this enlarged picture of a sundew leaf.

Drosera leaves, 11 August 2017

In a letter to botanist Hooker, Darwin wrote that sundew (Drosera) ‘leaves are first rate chemists’.

Darwin to Lyell, 11 August 2017

Darwin acknowledged that carnivorous plants should make people question the rigid hierarchical separation between plants and animals, which, as we saw, Linnaeus and others had advocated. In a letter to Charles Lyell, he wrote: ‘By Jove I sometimes think Drosera is a disguised animal!’

Utricularia, 11 August 2017

Darwin studied the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia (bladderwort) as well. In that, his correspondence with United States botanist Mary Lua Adelia Davis Treat (1830-1923) helped.

Mary Treat, 11 August 2017

Venus flytrap

Darwin also studied the Venus fly-trap.

Nepenthes, 11 August 2017

And Nepenthes pitcher plants. Frenchman Étienne de Flacourt had described Nepenthes pitcher plants for the first time in 1658. He thought the pitchers were flowers. Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702), a German Dutch East India Company employee staying on Ambon island corrected that, noting the pitchers were leaves. In fact, carnivorous plants’ flowers are often at a distance from their prey catching leaves, to prevent the plants from eating their own pollinating insects.

Rumphius called Nepenthes in Dutch kannekes kruyd, little jug plants.

Rumphius did not know yet the insectivorous function of the pitchers. He did note that a small crustacean species lived in them, staying alive. This was forgotten: in 1987 two zoologists claimed they had discovered that crustacean’s lifestyle for the first time. In 2004, Rumphius’ earlier description was rediscovered.

In 1874 Hooker, advised to do so by Darwin, did experiments with Nepenthes plants, establishing they were carnivorous; just in time for Darwin’s 1875 Insectivorous plants book.

Sarracenia, 11 August 2017

Darwin did not experiment with Sarracenia pitcher plants, but wrote he suspected they were carnivorous as well.

Sarracenia minor, 11 August 2017

Darwin’s United States correspondent Mary Treat wrote:

From all appearance the terrible Sarracenia was eating its victim alive. And yet, perhaps, I should not say ‘terrible,’ for the plant seems to supply its victims with a Lethe-like draught before devouring them.

The Lethe, in ancient Greek mythology, was a river in the underworld making those who drank from it forget everything.

Evolution, 11 August 2017

Norbert Peeters concluded his lecture with a quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky:

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

Peeters’ last slide was about his own presence on the Internet.

7 thoughts on “Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, part two

  1. Pingback: Carnivorous plants avoiding eating pollinating insects | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Asian pitcher plants, American pitcher plants and mosquitoes | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Common primrose, from Darwin to new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Venus flytrap research, from Darwin till now | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: How carnivorous plants survive | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: How carnivorous Venus flytrap plants feed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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