Can a Plant Eat a Human?
By: Ethan Tong
Can a plant eat a human? In the classic movie Little Shop of Horrors, a gigantic plant with shark-sized jaws needs human blood to grow. The Piranha Plants from the Mario Brothers video games hope to make a snack out of our favorite plumber. And in The Addams Family, Morticia owns an “African Strangler,” a plant with a pesky habit of biting humans. Many of these plants are called carnivorous plants, and they come in many sizes and shapes.
A common type of carnivorous plant is the pitcher plant. It lures its prey by using sweet nectar and has tube-shaped leaves. “You could get a really tall, deep pitcher that would be effective as a pitfall trap for larger animals,” says Kadeem Gilbert. This botanist studies tropical pitcher plants at Michigan State University in Hickory Corners.
Pitcher plants normally eat insects, but they rarely eat mammals and rodents. The plants catch poop left by small mammals as they lap up the plant’s nectar. “Consuming this predigested material would use less energy than digesting the animal itself,” Gilbert says.
A man-eating plant will save its energy a lot. “The depictions in Mario Brothers and Little Shop of Horrors seem less realistic,” says Gilbert. Those monstrous plants chomp, flail their vines and even run after people. “It takes a lot of energy for fast movement.”
Barry Rice agrees that the ideal man-eating plant wouldn’t move. He studies carnivorous plants at the University of California, Davis.