Killer tomatoes and predatory petunias are a reality, say Kew scientists

Killer tomatoes and predatory petunias should join the ranks of carnivorous plants, according to a new paper from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum.

The study – Murderous plants: Victorian Gothic, Darwin and modern insights into vegetable carnivory – found many commonly grown plants displaying carnivorous behaviour.

The paper’s authors have recommended a new perspective on the way plants are categorised after finding a sliding scale of carnivorousness.

Kew keeper of the Jodrell Laboratory Professor Mark Chase said: 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 team found plants like petunias and potatoes have sticky hairs that trap some insects, and some species of campion have the common name catchfly for the same reason.

Though they don’t eat insects in the same manner as a Venus fly trap, they may kill them and then absorb their nutrients when they fall to the ground and decay.

Some of the commonly accepted carnivores have not been demonstrated to have the ability to digest the insects they trap or to absorb the breakdown products.

 

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