Ice skating on remote ponds leads to especially special discoveries. Where there are no roads or waterways big enough to allow exploration by canoe, ice skating to the middle of a pond offers a view of biota rarely experienced by many humans. A month ago when the ice was perfect for skating, I explored one such pond and came upon a secret world of carnivorous plants.
Tall, red funnels full of ice grew straight out of tiny islands of sphagnum in the middle of the pond. While some of them were surrounded by the dried out brown shells of their brethren, others were still mostly green, streaked with veins of burgundy. I had never seen so many of this species in any one place other than a bog. Given the general rarity of bogs, seeing these carnivorous flowering plants here made me feel like I had eavesdropped on a conversation I should not have heard.
These northern pitcher plants, Sarracenia purpurea, fill with rainwater during the warmer times of the year and excrete sweet-smelling chemicals that attract investigative insects. Upon landing at the opening of the “pitcher,” these insects often fall in and cannot climb out due to the perfectly arranged recurved hairs lining the funnel. As the insect struggles to fly or climb out of this trap, the pitcher plant’s initially entrancing chemicals begin to slowly digest the insect–turning the curious creature into the plant’s necessary nutrients.