The western false asphodel, or Triantha occidentalis, was first noted in the scientific record in 1879 and commonly dwells in bogs near urban centers of the Pacific Northwest. Despite being on scientists’ radar for over 140 years, it was not until very recently that researchers discovered a surprising fact: the plant is carnivorous.
University of British Columbia botanists were working on a different project entirely when they realized that the western false asphodel tended to live in areas with other insect-eating plants. This, combined with their sticky stems, prompted researchers to take a closer look.
To come to their final carnivorous conclusion, researchers fed fruit flies nitrogen-15 isotopes, which can be used as a tracker, and then stuck the flies to the stem of the flowers. Analyzing nitrogen levels in the plants, they found that they were indeed eating small insects, although the limited stickiness of their stems prevents them from catching larger prey like pollinators.
The discovery of new species of plants is not uncommon, but the discovery that one is carnivorous, especially when it lives mere miles from the researchers’ base, demonstrates that the natural world still has a vast number of wonders we have yet to uncover.
Image source: KPBS