Murderous Plants

Investigating adaptation and competition in carnivorous plants

This module, inspired by the work of Charles Darwin and his American correspondent Mary Treat, considers adaptation and competition in the context of carnivorous plants.

Charles Darwin was fascinated by plant nutrition in relation to carnivorous plants. Both he and Treat conducted investigations through observation in the field and experimentation in their homes and gardens. He was particularly interested in a plant exhibiting animal-like behaviours, and at one point was said to exclaim:

By Jove I sometimes think Drosera is a disguised animal’.

He was so passionate about this plant he called it 'My beloved Drosera'.

This module also uses carnivorous plants and their habitats as a stepping-stone for exploring broader ecological concepts, in particular the structure of an ecosystem and predator-prey relationships. Students will engage in Darwin inspired activities with living specimens through inquiry-based learning.

Contemporary scientists, such as Aaron Ellison at Harvard University, continue to research these enigmatic plants and their extraordinary forms and behaviours. Students will engage with late Victorian botanical science in relation to how modern science works and consider the continuing role of evidence, theorising and peer-review.

Lesson Resources