Revenge of the Plants

Science

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JUN 21, 2018

A self-professed “big ol’ plant nerd,” even Tracy Calla, school and family programs manager at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, admits plants can be a “hard sell.” Whereas animals of all sorts garner excitement as everything from cuddly to creepy, plants struggle to be noticed, too often dismissed as a passive backdrop to the antics of the animal kingdom. But in the Savage Garden, the plants strike back, ensnaring insects, small animals and the imaginations of Selby Gardens’ visitors alike. “When kids see the Venus flytrap snap around a bug,” Calla says, “they jump back and gasp, and want to know more.”

As Selby Gardens’ newest permanent addition, the Savage Garden capitalizes on this curiosity, bringing a whole host of carnivorous plants from their previous home in the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. Located in the back of the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, past the looming rock faces and thatch-roof huts, under the guard of a prowling jaguar, visitors will find these new arrivals, from native bladderworts and butterworts to pitcher plants, sundews and even non-native Venus flytraps. These are “gateway plants,” says Calla, that tickle the imagination and draw newcomers immediately into a plant world that’s much more complex and active than may appear on the surface. “It's that kind of charisma that makes this new display an awesome addition to the Gardens,” she says.

Of course, one of the main draws for children and parents alike remains learning about all the different ways plants can trap their prey. From snaptraps and adhesive traps to pitfalls and the bladderwort’s super-fast suction traps, it’s “total mad science,” says Calla, but there’s good reason pitcher plants have trumpet-shaped leaves and butterworts feel greasy, and helpful displays explain why. “They’re weird-looking, villainous con men of the plant world,” Calla says. “And who doesn’t love a good villain?”

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