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Carnivorous Plants

Cultivate the killer instinct at your desk.

If you were ever 11 years old, there's a very good chance you brought home a Venus flytrap from the local drugstore, where they were sold as a novelty item. And there's a good chance that your plant died very shortly after.

Venus flytraps are one of the fussiest carnivorous plants you can attempt to grow. But there are, indeed, easier ones you can grow at the office.

Sure, the last thing you need is another responsibility at work, particular in today's environment, but isn't the thought of a carnivorous plant as intriguing today as it was back when you were a kid? These plants fascinate 11-year-olds of every age.

Any plant that attracts, kills, and digests animal life forms falls into the category of carnivorous plants. Native to wetlands, swamps, and bogs around the world, there are nearly 600 species.

Their soggy homelands typically lack the nutrients plants need to survive, so these clever plants took a note from the man-bites-dog page and developed the ability to eat animals to supplement their nutritional intake. Ants are their most common prey.

Audrey II

The fiendish plant Audrey II, from the 1986 movie version of "Little Shop Of Horrors."
These meat-eating plants lure their prey using the same techniques other plants employ to lure their pollinators--sweet-smelling nectars and bright colors. Once dinner has arrived, it's met with a brutal surprise and will find itself unable to leave.

The cartoon image of the leaves enfolding the helpless bug applies to just a few species. Instead, most carnivores operate like flypaper and secrete a sticky substance that holds their prey.

Some plants will even release a chemical attractant that paralyzes the insect. An enzyme is then released that begins to break down the body of the insect so the plant can digest it.

And all of this can happen at your desk.

Are you ready to grow one? If so, head to the International Carnivorous Plant Society Web site,, which overflows with information.

Lisa Van Cleef is a gardening writer in San Francisco.

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