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MWilko86

Can mouldy prey in pitchers be benefial to pitcher plants?

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Hiya peeps

I've had a good poke around on the tinterweb to find care sheets for my new N,alata and N.hookeriana. I've found that a handful of folk feed their Neps by watering them with orchid feed instead of feeding caught insects or fish food flakes into the traps. The reason they said they do this was because they didn't like the look of mouldy things in the bottom of the traps and possibly the smell of decay. Which led to a thought popping up which was, can fungus/mould in the traps of pitcher plants be beneficial to the plants?

I'm no microbiologist but I do have some understanding on how fungi work and it does fascinate me. Except for mouldy bread and rot on my plants.

I do know that fungi are a secondary decomposer that can break down dead or decaying matter down to its molecular state. For multi celled fungi to get the nutrients they need is to send out growth known as mycelium through the soil or into dead material for new sources of food. The fungal root hair at the edges of the mycelium (known as hyphae) acts like minute pneumatic dills by increasing the water pressure in the tips of the growing hyphae which then pushes or punches the head through whatever its growing into. These microscopic hyphae are known to penetrate even the most toughest of materials and is the reason why people get fungal infections in their toe nails. Then the mycelium secretes enzymes and acids into the material to break it down to a more soluble form to absorb.

My thinking is that with this in mind the fungus could help with the feeding process of pitcher plants, whether they are Nepenthes, Cephalotus or gluttonous Sarracenia. Especially in tall Sarracenia such as S.leucophylla or S.flava where their traps get filled with all kinds of creepy crawlies and out of reach from the digestive juices at the bottom of the leaf. Despite the leaves can become damaged when they are too full, I think the fungus that grows on the prey would be able to get their hyphae through the joints and air holes on the bodies of the insects and any excess nutritious juices then drips down into the leaf. These fungi could also help speed up the digestion process with something as big as a fat blue bottle which has a small surface area and may take a while for the plant's own juices to get into it to break it down.

It would be interesting what everyone thinks on this and more so if anyone knows any research material on the subject. I've had a gander with no luck and one article mentioning that some Japanese scientists have found that the fluid in neps have anti bacterial and fungal enzymes which could be used to help people with infections in the gut.

The following photos are of my N.'Bloody Mary' which is living the thug life on the landing window sill and one of its traps contains a mouldy fly. By the way the tea lights are there from black outs the other year and never get lit.

Mike

PTDC0005-1.thumb.jpg.3adf7c3e045037603c451adf99cca1d1.jpg58e3fd7331812_BloodyMary-1.thumb.jpg.d660421b20cc4ee454148eb0891e67ea.jpgPTDC0010-1.thumb.jpg.68ad8e738262e09e000fa2559ea09239.jpg

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Anything that breaks down the chitin and proteins should help feed the plants.  I think one Sarracenia (purpurea) doesnt have enzymes anyway and relies on fungus/bacteria to break down the insects anyway.

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16 hours ago, manders said:

I think one Sarracenia (purpurea) doesnt have enzymes anyway and relies on fungus/bacteria to break down the insects anyway.

Possibly, S.purperea have adapted in a way to purposely capture rain water in their traps and prey then falls in and drowns. Saying that it is interesting to think whether the enzymes and digestive fluid becomes diluted or they put more into the water. I have seen with mine that the gunk in the bottom of their leaves have gone gammy when there isn't much fluid and especially when a slug drops in.

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18 hours ago, MWilko86 said:

Possibly, S.purperea have adapted in a way to purposely capture rain water in their traps and prey then falls in and drowns. Saying that it is interesting to think whether the enzymes and digestive fluid becomes diluted or they put more into the water. I have seen with mine that the gunk in the bottom of their leaves have gone gammy when there isn't much fluid and especially when a slug drops in.

In nepenthes, several of them are adapted to absorb ammonia (and other things) from decomposing animal poo.  Some of the pitchers have very viscous fluid and some have quite watery fluid not entirely sure why although I think some of the plants also use the pitchers as a water reservoir for temporary/short droughts, certainly if you forget to water, the pitchers are the first things to dry up and shrivel. 

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Cheers Aljo, that was an interesting read. But with the article mentioning that these enzymes are in the pitchers' fluid, what about the stuff that is caught and doesn't reach the fluid like that in tall Sarracenia?

The genome bit is interesting and I've always wondered about a couple of origins of some pitchers with one of them possibly being Bromeliads, particularly Sarracenia and Heliamphora. I could be adding two and two together but with majority of the Bromeliaceae family originates in the Americas and the way the rainforest geneses collect moisture in pools at the base or centre of their leaves. Then some of them being able to collect dead leaves in these pool and then broken down to feed the bromeliad. I'll have to look into that bromeliad - pitcher link myself later.

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In nepenthes, several of them are adapted to absorb ammonia (and other things) from decomposing animal poo.

Yeh Manders, some scientists thought that those large neps caught rats and it must of blagged their heads to see a shrew using one as we do with the porcelain thrown. But then its an added bonus to the plant if the animal takes a wrong step and slips in. That Attenborough program on Kew Gardens is cracking and as you said about the fluid in neps being viscous. Dave said in that program that the fluid acts like quicksand as the proteins in it sticks to the prey and more so as it struggles.

With the water reservoir bit, does make you wonder and some of these warm places that most of our plants originated from must have droughts now and again. I've not seen it with my neps but then again they're indoors and they possibly fill a bit if put out in the rain. But the Sarracenia out in the planter have filled up with rain water and I sometimes have to empty them before the weight of the water weighs them down. It could also be all down to the physiology of the plants themselves as the leaves must get pretty warm with absorbing light and the fluid possibly be the first thing to go and then its most likely be down to the plant's tuber for its survival.

Edited by MWilko86
tweaking

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