PLANTS do the most surprising things, as we know. They eat and drink; they struggle and fight with one another for the best places, and for water air and sunshine; they marry and look after their children like good, thoughtful parents; they work hard for their living and they go to sleep. Many plant too, employ servants. Bee, flies, butterflies, and little beetles all work for plants, carrying the golden pollen-dust from one flower to another. As a rule, plants pay their servants well, giving them sips of delicious honey and a certain amount of their precious pollen as a reward for their services, and they hang out their bright petals as a sign to show their insect helpers where they may expect to find good things.
But some plants, sad to say, are not so fair and honest in their ways. they trick insects into working for them by false pretenses, and then give them nothing at all in return for their labors.
One of these dishonest plants is called the "Grass of Parnassus." It grows on swampy ground, on moors among mountains, or sometimes down near the sea in boggy hollows between sand-dunes. It has glossy green leaves and pretty milk-white flowers. Now at the base of each petal are a number of white hairs, each one bearing at its tip a tiny glistening yellow knob that looks exactly like a drop of honey. Bees and flies and butterflies see from afar these pretty flowers with their shining yellow drops, and hasten to visit them, expecting to find a regular feast spread out. But when they alight upon the flowers the insects to their surprise that no honey is to be had there. The glistening yellow drops are nothing but hard, solid, glassy knobs- they are simply imitation honey glands put there by the dishonest plant to deceive the pour insects and make them work for nothing.
The bees and the flies are very much puzzled by these curious hard knobs, and they walk about all over the flower to find the honey they feel sure must be hidden somewhere. While they are hunting about they brush against the ripe stamens, and their hairy coats receive a plentiful dusting of pollen. At last the disappointed insects give up their useless search for honey and fly off to try another flower, only to find themselves treated in the same unkind fashion; and here some of the pollen grains they brought from the last flower are sure to be rubbed off on the sticky stigmas-and so these dishonest plants have their pollen carried from one to another without paying carriage.
But there are other plants that behave in an even more disgraceful way. They set cruel traps and snares for poor unsuspecting insects, and tempt them to enter by flaunting gay colours to attract their attention, and offering them a feast of sweet honey. Then, sad to say, having caught the insects, these treacherous plants kill their captives-just as surely as a spider kills a fly-and proceed to eat them, or rather, we should say, they suck their juices and digest them.
Now I daresay, you wonder why plants should act in this very extraordinary way, and what good the dead insects are to them. Well, although plants get their chief supply of food form the sunlit air, they also, as you know, suck up certain salts and other strengthening materials from the soil dissolved in the water they drink through their roots.
The most important thing that plants obtain from the soil is Nitrogen, and this is supplied - to a great degree - by the insects, birds and little wild animals that die and are buried in the ground, where they decay and, with the dead plants and the leaves that fall from the trees, form good rich mould. But insect eating plants are always growing in wet boggy ground, where soil is poor and does not not contain sufficient nitrogen to supply their needs; so to make up for this they catch and kill live insects in their clever traps and snares, and use them for their food instead.
Altogether there are about five hundred different kinds of plants that capture insects in one way or another. Some turn their leaves into cunning traps into which poor insects walk all unsuspectingly, only to find too late that they can not get out again; some plants set spring traps to catch their little victims, while others seize and hold them fast with hairy clutching fingers; others again smear their leaves and stems with sticky stuff so that small insects stick fast to them, just as they do to fly papers. Several of these strange and interesting plants are to be found in our own country, but they look such simple harmless things that few people guess what they are doing Abroad, in warmer climates, however, many of these ogre-like plants are very large and handsome, and have the most curiously-shaped and ingenious insect-traps.