January 09, 2012
Scanning electron microscope image shows the upper leaf surface of Philcoxia minensis. Arrows point to nematodes and sand grains.
As bizarre as this scenario sounds, a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) outlines the subterranean predatory behavior of a the Philcoxia minensis in the Brazilian cerrado. Employing sticky leaves that grow under the sand, the flower is able to catch tiny roundworms for sustenance in a low-nutrient environment.
Philcoxia minensis' flower.
The researchers believe the plants have evolved this unique ability—the first time a carnivorous plant has been found employing stick leaves underground—in order to survive its harsh environment.
"Philcoxia minensis is found in relatively low flat areas, where water likely persists after rain. All shrubs and cacti avoid these areas, although they are common elsewhere in the immediate vicinity," the authors write, arguing that the plant is able to colonize this area due to its ability to eat roundworms.
Given the new discovery, the researchers believe it's worthwhile to explore other plant species for hidden meat-eating behaviors.
CAPTION: Caio G. Pereira, Daniela P. Almenara, Carlos E. Winter, Peter W. Fritsch, Hans Lambers, and Rafael S. Oliveira. Underground leaves of Philcoxia trap and digest nematodes. PNAS. 2012.
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