Plants That Kill

Many are familiar with the Venus flytrap native to North and South Carolina but are surprised to learn that California is home to nine species of plants that eat animals.

Drosera rotundifolia Roundleaf Sundew
Photo CAS Special Collections - Charles Webber

Like all plants, carnivorous plants photosynthesize, transforming water and carbon dioxide into nutrients and oxygen. With the additional nourishment from eating animals, they can live where other plants cannot. Despite this amazing adaptation, California's carnivorous plants are in danger of being lost-habitat destruction, pollution, invasive plants, and poaching of wild plants for sale are all serious threats to their survival.

Sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula) secrete a sticky glue from their leaves that stop unsuspecting insects in their tracks. Then the plant releases enzymes to digest the nutritious catch.
Illustration by Joe Kinyon.


"I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species of the world."

Charles Darwin, 1867


Darlingtonia californica California Pitcherplant.
Photo CAS Special Collections - Robert Potts

Carnivorous plants don't absorb most of their calcium, nitrogen, and magnesium from rich soils like other plants do. In fact, they thrive in nutrient-poor environments such as acidic bogs, fens, and seeps above serpentine soils. To obtain essential nutrients, they have developed modified leaves that lure, trap, kill, and digest insects, crustaceans, and spiders.

The cobra plant (Darlingtonia californica) lures prey into its bulbous head with nectar-baited, tonguelike leaves. Once inside, the insect slides down waxy walls covered in fine, slippery hairs and is digested in a pool of water, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Illustration by Joe Kinyon.