This strange looking thing is a tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes), a flesh-eating weirdness that fascinates many, including Drew Ells, a Wissahickon High School sophomore from Blue Bell, who is featured in my story in the paper's Home & Design section tomorrow. Check it out - and be sure to go online to see the marvelous photos taken by staff photographer David Swanson.
Carnivorous plants never quite got my juices going, but I'm told that the story's different for teenage boys. They think of these plants as action figures. The Venus fly trap actually moves! I know this is true because I put my finger into one of the traps at Drew's house during our photo shoot. No, it didnt hurt but it was pretty creepy.
One thing you may not know about carnivores - because ALL YOU CARE ABOUT is the gross details - is that they're surprisingly beautiful, though many are just combinations of red and green.
Drew has about 100 fly traps, sundews, pitcher plants, butterworts and bladderworts growing all over the house and, in nice weather, outside. He dabbles in the occasional succulent and orchid, but you know where his heart lies. You can't imagine how excited he was to open up the tube of a North American pitcher plant (Sarracenia) and show off the piles of fly carcasses the plant had lured inside and killed.
These guys have what's known as a pitfall trap. Hapless insects easily find the entrance and whoa, slip right down on the waxy surface into the pit. This is a one-way trip, for sure. The plant secretes acids and enzymes to dissolve the soft parts of the victim - proteins and other compounds - and leaves the indigestible exoskeletons in there for the Drews of the world to play with.
Sound like fun?