School Program Spotlight: Carnivorous Plants

by Melissa Harding

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In School Program Spotlight, we explore the content of some of our most popular school programs.

Children love carnivorous plants; even when the lesson is about butterflies, many students ask when they are going to see the venus fly traps and the pitcher plants. Who could blame them? Carnivorous plants are a marvel of nature and really, really cool. They construct careful traps to lure and snag their prey, using lightening reflexes to catch an unsuspecting fly or midge. They can seem almost more like an animal than a plant. In reality, they are just incredibly adapted to lives in swampy, nutrient-poor soil. Swampy soil is missing nitrogen, a key nutrient that plants need to grow foliage. Carnivorous plants get their nitrogen from the amino acids found in their prey, rather than from ions in the soil. The adaptations that allow plants to do this are wide and varied, from the sundew with its sticky, whip-like leaves to the bladderwort with its air-filled, under water traps.

Our Carnivorous Plants program uses real plant examples to teach students how and why carnivorous plants are so well adapted to their environment. The program focuses on plants with passive, active and semi-active traps and explains how they work. This two-hour field trip is broken down into a classroom portion and a tour.

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In the classroom portion, students learn that carnivorous plants are adapted to very particular kinds of soil and where those soils are found all over the world. They learn that each plant has a different method of capturing their prey; some use sweet-smelling bait, some triggered traps and others some combination of the two. Students watch exciting videos of plants catching their prey and dissect a pitcher plant to find out what it has been eating.

The tour portion of the program consists of a self-guided or docent-lead tour of the Conservatory. Those who would prefer a self-guided experience may request a PDF of our self-guided tour or explore on their own. Those who choose the docent-lead tour will learn about the history of the Conservatory and the plants of our tropical and desert biomes, as well as the soil we use to grow them.

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If you are a teacher and would like more information on how to sign up for this or any other school program, please use the “Registering for Programs” link in the menu above. Please note that scout groups, home school groups and other groups of 10 or more may sign up for any of our school programs as well!

The above photos were taken by Melissa Harding and Molly Steinwald.

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