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The Curious World of Carnivorous Plants

Timber Press, 224 pages, $39.95

 

A “miracle of nature” was how Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, expressed the peculiarity of a plant that had somehow turned the food chain upside down in its favor. How incongruous it must have seemed for a botanical specimen to ensnare and assimilate an animal. Even today the notion remains extraordinary.

The Curious World of Carnivorous Plants offers a rare peek behind the curtain of this stage where flesh-eating plants play the starring role of charlatans luring unsuspecting victims to their untimely death. Collaboratively written by four botanical experts, this book is a comprehensive guide to the ecology, physiology, and evolution of more than 600 known carnivorous plant species. Readers are transported around the globe to such places as bogs, swamps, and forests where vegetative curiosities like sundews, Venus flytraps, butterworts, and pitcher plants sip scarce nutrients from the soil while waiting for a protein-packed meal to fly along. With encyclopedic detail the authors describe the range of deceptive visual, tactile, and olfactory strategies that these plants use to attract their prey, as well as the various trapping mechanisms they employ. Illustrated with colorful, close-up photography that sometimes offers a step-by-step look as insects become casualties of carnivorous appetites, these pages will leave you impressed by just how creative the art of deception can be.—Rene Ebersole

 

A wasp meets its fate.

Enticed by the sweet nectar in a pitfall trap of the flowerlike yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava), a wasp zooms in to get a closer look.
Wilhelm Barthlott

 

The wasp lands on a tubular leaf.
Wilhelm Barthlott

 

Reaching the slippery inner side of the trap, the hapless bug loses its footing and slides down the tube.
Wilhelm Barthlott

 

Inside, the wasp joins an assembly of other casualties being digested by enzymatic juice.
Wilhelm Barthlott

 

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