Now, I’m sharing a rather intriguing paper in the Annals of Botany on digestive mutualism between several species of bromeliad and the bromeliad-living spider Psecas chapoda for several reasons. It’s not just because P. chapoda is just one of several species of spider adapted to living within bromeliads, with their feces and food scraps contributing toward the bromeliad’s nitrogen needs. It’s not just because further investigation may help develop new insights into why carnivory developed in so many flowering plants, as well as how the carnivorous bromeliad genera Brocchinia and Catopsis got their starts. It’s not just that this sort of digestive mutualism exists in many protocarnivorous and carnivorous-by-proxy plants, such as the South African genus Roridula. It’s not even because with enough true carnivorous plants that take advantage of assistance from animal predigestion of prey, such as frogs in Sarracenia, Nepenthes, and Heliamphora pitcher plants, this discovery may suggest that other plants are only protocarnivorous during the times of year when the spiders move in. On a personal note, it means I need to do more to encourage the indigenous jumping spiders in the area to move in among my Nepenthes and Catopsis.
No, the real reason I want to share is because in the course of a long and eventful life, I have a lot of very sick and sordid friends. In fact, I can see at least one of them making up a tiny outhouse for the pitcher of my Catopsis, or at least a little sign reading “Flush Twice: It’s A Long Way To The School Cafeteria”. I expect at least one to go electronic, and fit the Nepenthes racks with a motion sensor and a sound chip that chirps “DUDE! Light a match, will you?” I may be 45 going on 12, but my friends are even worse.
2011 has been a year for experiments. A few worked out well, and a couple threatened to take over. Most of them, from growing various triggerplants from seed to attempting to raise the Excalibur of carnivorous plants, Nepenthes hamata, leave me crying in my sleep. Thanks to the summer and the continued drought, this was a really bad year for horticulture experiments. I really should complain, because the dingbat who packaged up 2011 didn’t label it “TOXIC WASTE” on the label.
All right, so the National Weather Service is predicting ongoing droughts until possibly 2020, and the front yard is full of cracks big enough to eat a puppy. The Sarracenia look at me these days with nothing but horror, and the Nepenthes hold the cats hostage for fear that I’ll put them outside. Don’t get me started about the Spathophyllum that I’ve been carrying around since 1998. It’s going carnivorous just so it can eat my face. That doesn’t mean I can’t add a new face in the greenhouse, can I?
Well, that’s precisely what happened last night. A while back, I made friends with the folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society, and brought up that I was looking for a few very special bromeliads. Specifically, I was looking for representatives of the two known carnivorous genera, namely Catopsis berteroniana and Brocchinia reducta. It was an idle whim, comparable to my saying “I wouldn’t mind borrowing Quetzacoatl’s raft of serpents for a weekend,” and I figured that the opportunity would present itself when it was ready. You can imagine the shock when I heard from Aaron and Shawn of the Bromeliad Society, telling me “We have your plants.”
So right now, along with all of the other denizens, I have one plant each of Catopsis berteroniana and of Catopsis subulata. I have no idea for certain that C. subulata is carnivorous or even protocarnivorous, but considering the very alien appearance of this beauty, it may be time to find out.
The absolute best part of this? I recently received an invitation for an informal presentation for older students at the Episcopal School of Dallas week after next, and now I’ll be able to show them some really obscure carnivores. Between Catopsis and triggerplants, those lone flytraps out at Wal-Mart are going to look pretty sedate.