Among the highest peaks in North America, it is difficult to find the nutrients necessary for vegetation to prevail. With less oxygen available and land diminished in sufficient properties, few plant species flourish on the mountain tops. For this reason, Trianthaglutinosa - known locally as False asphode - took a different evolutionary path: it became a carnivorous plant, and it feeds on insects that hover around in the environment.  

Between swamps and towering peaks

The Trianthaglutinosa are generally found on the west coast, north of the American continent. They reach maturity during the summer, when temperatures are warmer and they can feed on insects in the environment. They are easily distinguishable among the swamps and mountains of the area by their whitish coloration, with occasional pale pink shoots. 

According to Douglas Main's coverage for National Geographic, the plant is found in swamps and mountainous ecosystems from Alaska to California. Despite being a common species, never before has attention been paid to the fact that it is a carnivorous plant. However, according to botanist Qianshi Lin, from the University of British Columbia, they feed on arachnids, insects, arachnids, and even small animals. 

He realized this after listening to a colleague of hers at university highlight the similarity between stem structure and sticky traps used by other carnivorous plant species. After a closer analysis, it turned out that Trianthaglutinosa also traps and digests these animals, as he explains in his article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

12 carnivorous evolutions

The natural history of carnivorous plants points to 11 different evolutionary lineages, which resulted in a wide diversity of species, a number that increases to 12 with the discovery of Trianthaglutinos a. According to Lin, this path has allowed him to generate sophisticated capture strategies. "This type of plant turns animals over and eats insects," explains the expert, who is studying a post-doctorate in biology at the University of Toronto. 

Just as other carnivorous plants capture their prey, they secrete specific enzymes to digest them and, after absorbing them whole, they liquefy them inside. This characteristic is surprising for the species, since they have a very short life cycle. The winter snow has just melted, they bloom between June and July. By autumn, they have already withered.

According to the expert, the fact that it feeds on animals went unnoticed because its capture hairs are very small, and only grow on the stem of the flower. This is "a characteristic unlike any known carnivorous plant," Lin details. However, his research suggests that he does not trap large pollinators - such as bees and butterflies - but rather ants and flies.

In the same way, the behavior of the plant has been described as "defensive killing". Scientists suspect that, in addition to fulfilling the food function, it could be a mechanism to prevent non-pollinating insects from entering their flowers. In this way, they use the enzyme phosphatase to break down the tissues of invading insects, which they later ingest to obtain nutrients. (Text and photos: National Geographic) 


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