WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A common flowering plant that grows along the Pacific coast of North America has been found to be carnivorous.
- The plant usually grows in wet and low-nutrient sites.
- It’s the twelfth lineage of carnivorous plants recognized by scientists.
A flowering plant commonly found in the U.S has been discovered to be carnivorous.
The Triantha occidentalis can be found along the Pacific coast of North America. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the flowering plant has adapted a carnivorous diet to gain nutrients.
Before this discovery, there have only been eleven lineages of carnivorous plants recognized by scientists, with each having a distinct origin. The Triantha occidentalis, which has evolved independently from any other, is now the twelfth lineage.
According to the London Natural History Museum, carnivorous plants typically grow in sites that are often wet, like “bogs, swamps, water bodies, watercourses, forests, and sandy or rocky sites.” Because of the lack of soil nutrients in these areas, the plant species adapted a carnivorous diet to get more nutrients.
The museum also shared that “there are currently around 630 species of carnivorous plant known to science” which can be found across the globe, except in Antarctica.
A team of scientists led by botanist Sean Graham first suspected that the North American species might be carnivorous after discovering that it also didn’t have the specific gene that other carnivorous plant species also lack.
The species also has a sticky stem that traps insects, similar to other carnivorous plants.
Qianshi Lin and his colleagues tested the theory by sticking dead fruit flies to the stem of a Triantha occidentalis. The fruit flies had been given nitrogen isotope. The team discovered that like other carnivorous plants, the Triantha occidentalis absorbed up to 64% of the nitrogen from the insects. That level is far above what non-carnivorous plants incidentally absorb.
According to Lin, the species can also distinguish between insects that are good for their diet and those that are helpful in pollination. The stickiness of its stem is enough to trap tiny insects without disturbing the work of pollinator insects.
The study recommends further research to discover other carnivorous plants that may be out there.