As reported on GardenWise Online, plants have evolved many strange features in order to survive in our harsh and ever-changing world.
Occasionally these features make them same unusual to human observers, but they are actually clever and useful adaptations.
Here are some weird plants that have adapted in extraordinary ways for survival.
This is a supersized version of the common and familiar waterlily (Nymphaea). Each leaf can reach 2 m (6-ft.) across and has a vertical rim up to several centimetres high. They evolved in deep-water parts of the Amazon River. These hefty leaves require strong engineering – one good look at their undersides gives their secret away. A sturdy structure of ribs and cross-ribs keep these monstrous green pads afloat in strong currents.
Dutchman’s pipe vine is the common name for a genus (Aristolochia; pictured) that sports bizarrely shaped flowers resembling old-fashioned Dutch meerschaum pipes. These floral marvels hold a special appeal for tiny flies and gnats, for they have the ability to warm up and release an aroma of decomposing meat. Curious, their insect visitors climb into the mouth of the flower, searching for a meal. It’s then a slippery slide into the swollen base of the flower, but their exit is blocked by backward-facing hairs. The insects’ unwitting role is to pollinate the flower, and once this has happened, the hairs wither, making escape possible!
Since flies are often on the hunt for rotten meat, many species of plants are able to pump out eau de carrion. Members of the Arum Family, such as skunk cabbages (pictured), are well known for this feat, as is their relative, the dragon arum, Dracunculus. It also has glistening red flowers that could pass for a steak if you were missing your glasses on a dark night!
Man-eating plants are strictly imaginary – but hundreds of species of plants do digest insects and other small organisms to supplement their nutrient intakes. Amazingly, this propensity seems to have evolved independently in about five different instances. Most carnivorous plants evolved in water-logged soils that lack the bacteria necessary to take nitrogen gas out of the air and turn it into a form that the plants can then take up. Nitrogen is an essential component in proteins and DNA, so without it life doesn’t go on.
Carnivorous plants trap insects in “pitfall” traps or sticky traps. Once a victim has been captured, the plant excretes digestive enzymes similar to those produced in your own small intestine. The prey’s amino acids are absorbed by the plant to supplement its nutritional demands. Making the required pitfall pitchers, sticky sundews and snap-shut flytraps costs a “carnie” a huge energy expenditure – that’s why you find them only where there is plenty of sunlight to drive all the expensive machinery!
Cyclamen repandum (pictured) is native to Europe, where it is most often found in shade or part shade, nestled into the roots of deciduous trees or pines. A challenge faced by all plants, since they are not mobile, is how to extend their range. This is often done by producing seeds that catch a breeze and sail off from the parent plant.
Since seed dispersal by wind is not an option on the sheltered forest floor, Cyclamen species enlist the help of their insect neighbours. Ripe Cyclamen seeds are covered with a sticky sugary coating. Ants seek out the seed and carry it back to their nests. Along the way, however, they always drop a few, and these eventually germinate and grow into new clumps of Cyclamen.