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Updated: Jul 25, 2019

by Emmi Kurosawa

I was working at a pharmaceutical company for the longest time, saving lives and making a happy living for myself... Well, until I met "carnivorous plants" at the Boston Flower Show. They were weird, wild and wonderful! They come in different shapes and colors. Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and corkscrew plants. Each has developed a unique way of attracting, capturing, and digesting insects. I was completely awed by their singularity and beauty. After joining the New England Carnivorous Plant Society who displayed the carnivorous plants at the Boston Flower Show, the size of my collection increased exponentially. The more I learned about them, the more I got pulled into the sinister and mysterious world of carnivorous plants. Next thing you know, I quit my job, and started painting botanical art as one of ways to express my passion for carnivorous plants. As I studied each plant more carefully with the accuracy required for botanical art, my curiosity about these plants became inexorable. I now study carnivorous plants in a graduate program, working on my PhD. For better or worse, my obsession with carnivorous plants has changed my life!

A few tales about carnivorous plants...

One evening, I found this plant, Sarracenia rosea, glowing like a fire in the setting sun light. I painted it to keep this vivid image permanent. Sarracenia rosea is a North American pitcher plant, and is carnivorous. They secrete sweet and fragrant nectar on the lid and around the rim of the trap. The insects come to drink the nectar,slip into the trap, won't be able to get out because of the numerous hair on the lid grow downward towards the trap.The insects that fall for this plant’s ruse are finally digested within giving the plant the nutrients it needs. This plant is one of my favorite plants from my collections.

Pinguicula ramosa (aka Koshinso) is a butterwort, a type of carnivorous plants that grows in Nikko mountains in Japan. There are only 5 native sites that are known to date. This species, for some unknown reasons, is extremely difficult to grow in cultivation. For these reasons, it is critically endangered, and any records of accurate scientific descriptions and drawings are of dire importance. A few years ago, I had a privilege to visit one of the native sites, and was able to paint them.

(1) describes a cluster of blooming P. ramosa (2x). Most people immediately react that the orientation is wrong, but actually, this species, like most Pinguicula, grows on the walls of vertical gorges and cliffs between 1500 to 2000 m in elevation , and sends out inflorescence horizontally to the ground. Interestingly, when the seeds are set (2, 4x), the inflorescence stretches backwards towards the surface of the gorge wall and embed the seed pods in the medium (3). Another unique feature of this plant is that a single flower stalk holds up to 4 flowers (4, 2x). Other Pinguicula species only hold one flower per stalk. (5) shows a magnification (4x) of traps Note the numerous sticky glands covering the surface of the trap leaves and stems, which help it capture any insect that falls for this plants trickery.

Utricularia, aka bladderwort is a small and inconspicuous plant that bears dainty flowers. Despite its innocent look, it is a carnivorous plant. The traps are shaped like bladders, and are usually hidden beneath the earth. The bladder is negatively pressured when it is set. When a prey brushes against the trigger hairs on the trap door, the door flings open and the prey is vacuumed up into the trap. Utricularia resupinata is native to New England, and grow in sandy banks of oligotrophic kettle ponds. I like to visit and draw them when they are blooming profusely in late summer to fall. The flower looks almost like a dancing girl in a pink tutu.

Emmi Kurosawa is a PhD student at University of Massachusetts Boston studying carnivorous plant genetics. She is also a amazing botanical artist (, a molecular biologist and a rock drummer.

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Updated: Jul 25, 2019

by Josh Galperin

I don’t hate plants, though I do sometimes hate looking at them for too long. For that reason trees are among my favorite plants. They are large and easy to identify from a distance. They are easy to identify while hiking, or even driving, so they don’t require frequent, extended, stops; crouching, squinting, and thumbing through field guides. That tedious behavior is mercifully reserved for identifying spring ephemerals, for instance, or maybe a shrub here and there in a region we haven’t visited before.

I would gladly walk by the unidentified plants and save my energy for birds, maybe mountains, definitely lunch. The plants are part of the wallpaper. My wife, on the other hand, puts plants first. She puts plants first in part because its her job. Known to some readers of this blog, my wife, Sara Kuebbing, is an ecologist who studies invasive plants. In trying to teach me to love plants, she has pushed me precariously close to hating them.

I can learn to hate the plants she loves because she looks at them so carefully and for so long. She has taught me to almost hate the plants she studies as well because they are harmful invasive species that cause ecological and economic damage. With so many reasons to hate plants, how can I learn to love them? I just have to remind myself that in many cases they taste good.

A little more than a decade ago I was walking through an urban park with my dad when I noticed a patch of wood sorrel. I picked a bit and ate it. Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is an abundant plant across most of the world, and it has a nice, slightly sweet, slightly acidic taste. My dad reacted with unparalleled shock.

“You can’t just eat a plant!” he yelled.

“Almost everything we eat is plants, Dad.”

“But dogs don’t pee on the plants we get from farms,” he argued.

I doubted his argument then and I doubt it now. Dogs probably do pee on plants at the farm, though I suppose we often rinse our veggies and the grains we eat are so processed that not much dog urine makes it to our mouths.

In any case, the real issue isn’t pee, it is poop. Shortly after this conversation with my dad there was an E. coli outbreak that killed and sickened people across the country. The outbreak stemmed from wild boar that made their way to, and pooped in, spinach fields. Wild boar are an invasive species in North America, having come along with early Europeans as a source of food. No matter how good they taste and how many people have been chasing them down for food, between their smarts—which make them difficult to hunt successfully—and their reproduction—which allows rapid population growth—the population of invasive boar continues to grow and spread. Boar are not just a threat to the safety of our food supply. Among some advocates boar are also offered as a win-win source of food. Americans are happy to eat pig and since wild boar create ecological, economic, and public health harms, the activists—sometimes self-titled as “invasivores”—suggest that we should eat more boar. The idea is that if we can consume enough invasive pig we can control the pig population. The invasivores don’t stop with pigs, of course, they also propose that we control invasive plants by eating them to extinction.

I am a skeptic of eating invasive species as a policy response. Heaven knows it isn’t because I love plants too much to eat them. It’s because I don’t think it will work. As with the pigs, sometimes the rates of population growth and the nature of harvesting would require such enormous appetites that it just doesn’t make sense. For example, we aren’t so hungry for garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that we could eat away at the invasive populations of this herbaceous lowland weed. Moreover, if we are eating a lot of it, moving it around in streams of commerce, and building a new love for the species, we’re likely to see it spread, not fade away.

And yet, I don’t just eat native Wood sorrel, I also eat invasive garlic mustard. Sara and I moved into a new home just last month. The previous owners moved out a year before so the yard was in a bit of disarray. (“Was”. Who am I kidding? The yard is definitely still in disarray). Among the weeds overgrowing our new house is garlic mustard. So what better way to get rid of some weeds, limit their spread into neighbor’s yards, and to put food on the table, than to make some Garlic mustard pesto? Here’s the recipe: Pick several cups of the young plants. The older plants are too tough. Mix the leaves with a few cloves of garlic, a half cup of olive oil, pine nuts or walnuts, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. Blend everything and let it sit overnight.

While the policy of controlling invasive species by commercializing them seems to have intractable flaws, the individual habit of casually eating invasive plants doesn’t give me too much pause. After all, it’s a way to turn a hater like me into a lover.

Josh Galperin is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He studies environmental law and occasionally invasive species policy. Josh tweets about boar, plants, garlic mustard and many other topics @JoshGalperin.

*Parts of this post are drawn from previous writings, including Joshua Ulan Galperin, No Farms No Food?: A Response to Baylen Linnekin, 45 Fordham Urb. L. J. (2018) and Joshua Ulan Galperin and Sara E. Kuebbing, Eating Invaders: Managing Biological Invasions with a Fork and Knife? 28-FALL Nat. Resources & Env't 41 (2013).

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Updated: Jul 25, 2019

by David Gill

35 pounds of mangoes!

Growing up in Barbados, "summer" was my favourite time of year. Mostly because school was out (I hated school!) but also because it was a special time of year for other species as well, (mango season!).

We had ~11 varieties of mangoes from 13 trees (example mangoes, Figure 1). Not all trees bore mangoes at the same time, so some days we had 2-3 trees to choose from, but other times we had around 6-8 trees. I remember one summer we collected ~ 35 lb of mangoes in one run (header photo).

Unfortunately, we were not the only foragers, but competed fiercely with another non-native species: Chlorocebus pygerythrus, the vervet monkey (Figure 2). Brought over from Africa by the Europeans over 350 year ago, these monkeys would sample various trees and fruit, taking one bite of a mango and leaving it behind to try another few. As a boy I knew that I was outnumbered by these agile competitors, so I attempted a variety of strategies to balance the odds: from standing guard under the trees, bagging choice mangoes in cloth bags to "hide" them from the monkeys, to more direct territorial behaviour (i.e. yelling and chasing monkeys down the street).

Monkey and Mangoes

However, anecdotal information from family suggested that these adaptive strategies led to retaliatory behaviour: crop destruction, tree damage, and angry displays where the animal raises their tail and points their rear in the direction of the said human. This intense competition extended to other food resources (e.g.Persea americana [avocado], and Spondias cytherea [ambarella or "golden apples"]).

In recent years, development has led to a drastic reduction in mango diversity (aka my sister built her house on the “empty” lot) and we are now down to 7 varieties of mango. Further, erratic weather and climate conditions has altered the bearing seasons, making mango season more and more unpredictable. Nonetheless, despite much lower yields, we can still enjoy two, or three, or five mangoes while the trees are still around!

David Gill is a marine scientist and post-doctoral researcher, currently living in Arlington VA.

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