Meet the man on a mission to save carnivorous plants

Source: BBC

By Lucy Jones

Stewart McPherson is prepared to go a long way for his science: even into the grounds of a prison in the Philippines. “I had to be guided by murderers,” he says.

His target was, appropriately enough, a plant that kills: atropical pitcher plant called Nepenthes deaniana that traps and digests insects. “It hadn’t been seen for nearly 100 years.”

McPherson has been fascinated with carnivorous plants since childhood. As an eight-year-old he came across his first species in a British garden centre. Immediately fascinated, he started a collection. After a couple of years, he had filled the family conservatory with hundreds of different plants.

The young naturalist found carnivorous plants extraordinary – as many others have for centuries. But despite their startling abilities, carnivorous plants are also in profound danger.

Nepenthes rajah sometimes traps rats (Credit: Stewart McPherson)

Nepenthes rajah sometimes traps rats (Credit: Stewart McPherson)

“To think they are plants with highly modified specialist leaves that have adapted through evolution to attract, capture, kill and digest animals – in some cases as big as rats – is pretty amazing,” says McPherson.

Over the last decade, he has climbed 300 mountains

The idea of flesh-eating plants has long captured the imagination, from Victorian fables of man-eating species to post-apocalyptic sci-fi with John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and the musical fantasy film Little Shop of Horrors.

These plants were mythical, of course. The thought of real-world carnivorous plant species once seemed impossibly implausible.

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