Potatoes are carnivorous

Many common plants – including petunias and potatoes – are actually carnivorous, according to scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and London’s Natural History Museum.

Several groups have been generally recognised as carnivorous plants, including sundews, Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. But while others have been suggested as possible carnivores, most scientists have been pretty dubious.

Professor Mark Chase reckons that carnivory should not be treated as a black and white situation, and that plants should be seen as being on a sliding scale between those that show no carnivorous characteristics and those that are proper meat eaters such as the Venus flytrap.

Plants like petunias, tomatoes and potatoes have sticky hairs that trap insects, and some species of campion have the common name catchfly for the same reason. It’s now been demonstrated that when the insects they catch fall to the ground, the plant is absorbing the nutrients through its roots.

Professor Mark Chase, Keeper of the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, “Although a man-eating tree is fictional, many commonly grown plants may turn out to be cryptic carnivores, at least by absorbing through their roots the breakdown products of the animals that they ensnare. We may be surrounded by many more murderous plants than we think.”

The paper appears in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.