While studying the plants with the Philcoxia genus – native to the tropical savannah region of Cerrado – in Brazil, scientists were puzzled by one apparent paradox: the plants appeared to have flesh-eating features, but there was no evidence of prey being trapped. Recently, a team of researchers found the explanation, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the plant captures and devours its victims through leaves buried in the sand.
It’s the first time that researchers find a plant of this kind, though it is believed that many other species with similar characteristics may be discovered now. It is currently accepted that 0.2% of flowering plant species are carnivorous, but the percentage may be incremented due to the new finding, authors say.
“This leads to the question of whether there are other carnivorous plants out there in families not known for carnivory,” says Peter Fritsch, a botanist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, US, and co-author of the research.
This peculiar way of capturing worms may be a result of evolution, given the fact that the region of Cerrado where the plants live is covered with rocky outcrops and sand, and therefore spare in nutrients. The researchers, coming from different universities and laboratories in Brazil, Australia and the US, will now study how other plants search for nutrients in relatively desolate landscapes.
Photo credit: Caio G. Pereira/Rafael S. Oliveira et al/PNAS
Pereira, C., Almenara, D., Winter, C., Fritsch, P., Lambers, H., & Oliveira, R. (2012). Underground leaves of Philcoxia trap and digest nematodes Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1114199109