Nepenthes Ampullaria

This is my most unusual plant. It is a lowland, swamp loving Nepenthes that was a carnivore and has switched to a detritivore diet. Though they don’t mind an occasional bug. The pitchers have enzymes and bacteria to break down and digest leaves, insects and insect larvea. The pitcher fluid is more basic than is found in other Nepenthes. Many insects will make homes for themselves in the pitchers.

I started with a batch of seeds I purchased on eBay. The first couple years growth is very slow, they make up for it the third year.

They are native to the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia. You’ll often see them at food stands, the pitchers stuffed with rice. I’ve also seen them called ‘monkey cups’.

In Malaysia a tea made from the roots is used to treat dysentery.

Keep them warm 60’F-80’F humid, wet and out of direct sunlight. I’ve done best growing them in orchid baskets full of sphagnum moss. I seat the baskets in a clear pot and keep an inch or so of water in there. Only use distilled water, they are sensitive to chemicals in drinking water.

I found started Nepenthes seeds in terrariums on top of peat moss works best.

Nepenthes ampullaria are most strongly related to Bicalcarata. Ampullarias are most easily identified by the tiny, narrow lid on the pitcher. There is a large variation in pitcher size, colors are solid green or green speckled with red.

Some leaves do not have pitchers, but instead grow tendrils.

The fluids of Nepenthes pitcher plants are habitats to many specialized animals known as inquilines, which facilitate the conversion of prey protein into pitcher-absorbable nitrogen forms such as ammonium. Xenoplatyura beaveri (Diptera: Mycetophilidae) is a predatory dipteran inquiline that inhabits the pitchers of Nepenthes ampullaria. Larvae of X. beaveri construct sticky webs over the fluid surface of N. ampullaria to ensnare emerging adult dipteran inquilines.

Our results show that a terrestrial, inquiline predator can contribute significantly to nutrient sequestration in the phytotelma it inhabits, and suggest that this interaction has a net mutualistic outcome for both species.

Tomato plants turn munching caterpillars into cannibals

It turns out that cannibalism is widespread among the insects that otherwise spend their time munching on plants. “It often starts with one caterpillar biting another one in the rear, which then oozes,” said University of Wisconsin–Madison’s John Orrock in a press release describing his work. “And it goes downhill from there. At the end of the day, somebody gets eaten.”

It’s considered a stress response to a lack of food. What surprised Orrock was that this behavior sometimes took place on plants. You know, the things these caterpillars are supposed to be eating. If the food’s right there, why would these insects be turning on each other?

It all comes back to the chemicals a plant releases to say “watch out, I’m being eaten.” This is typically some chemical relative of jasmonic acid, a regulator of plant stress responses. While jasmonic acid can be used to coordinate a plant’s own response to stress, it also gets out into the environment and alerts other plants that something stressful is going on.

Induced defences in plants reduce herbivory by increasing cannibalism

More info:
Jasmonic acid distribution and action in plants: Regulation during development and response to biotic and abiotic stress

Slime mold (Fuligo septica)

Yellow plasmodium, more commonly known as dog vomit slime mold is actually a fungus.

Grows on decaying wood and leaves, in the shade. Most of its life is spent as a single cell. When warm and humid the cells creep together to form a single unit. The cells lock into each other like keys in a lock. The unit then follows light sources and moves in search of bacteria, yeasts and other fungi to eat. By pulsing it can send the food throughout itself.

Slime molds leave a trail of slime behind which acts as memory. When they find the slime they move to explore a new area rather than re-search an area they’ve cleaned.

Reproduces by breaking back apart into multiple cells that are moved by the wind to begin new units when the weather conditions are right.

Slime molds have been placed in mazes with various food sources, they connect together and hunt out the food which is then fed to the entire unit through the tube network it creates in itself. If the food is placed on a map in large cities a highway system develops to transport the food that looks spooky similar to our own highways. Slime molds can find the most efficient routes through a maze.

Slime molds have been with us about 600 million years and were the inspiration for the movie ‘The Blob’.

Dodder vine (Cuscuta pentagona)

Dodder vine

Dodder vine is an amazing plant, it is orange rather than green due to its lack of chlorophyl, it can’t make its own food.

Instead the dodder vine hatches in the spring from a seed and very slowly moves in a circle searching the air for beta-myrcene a volatile chemical emitted into the air by tomatoes and other plants. When it picks up the scent of beta-myrcene it grows in the direction of the odor until it finds the plant emitting it.

Once it reaches the plant it tightly winds itself around the plant, sinking roots into the host plant. The roots then suck up the juices in the host plant to feed itself. The host plant will then wilt and die.

Dodder vine also appears to exchange RNA with the host plant. Whether this is a way of exchanging information with the host plant or a way to reprogram it, much the way viruses reprogram our DNA is unknown.

Plants use RNA as a way to send messages through out the plant. When a dodder vine attacks a plant some of the plant’s RNA gets sucked up by the dodder vine. The dodder vine can then read the RNA to better evaluate how to attack the host.

Professor Neelima Sinha and colleagues at the UC Davis Section of Plant Biology studied dodder vines growing on tomato plants in the lab. They found that RNA molecules from the host could be found in the dodder up to a foot (30 cm) from the point where the parasite had plumbed itself into the host.

Plants often use small RNA molecules as messengers between different parts of the plant. In a paper published in Science in 2001, Sinha’s group showed that RNA could travel from a graft into the rest of the plant and affect leaf shape. Plants can also use specific RNAs to fight off viruses. . . [ read more Plant Parasite Wiretaps Host ]

Dodder is a member of the Morning Glory family.

It has very tiny leaves that are more like scales than leaves and tiny white flowers.

It is considered an invasive plant and a threat to the local ecology in Texas.

A new method of plant communication?
Genomic-scale exchange of mRNA between a parasitic plant and its host
YouTube video of dodder vine locating and reaching for a tomato plant
Dodder management guide lines

Insects and plant evolution go hand in hand

Scientists removed insects from fields of primrose for several years.

In just a few generations the primrose relaxed it’s defenses against insects and devoted more energy to competing for space and resources.

In the study, 16 identical plots were set up that contained the same relative numbers of 18 unique genotypes of native evening primrose. During each growing season, half the plots were treated biweekly with an insecticide; the other half were not.

The offspring of evening primrose are mostly clones of the parent due to self-pollination and other factors in primrose reproduction.

Of the genotypes that remained in the plots without insects, the researchers found more plants with relaxed defenses. By 2010 and even more in 2011, there was a shift toward plants that flowered earlier. When insects are present, later-flowering plants do better due to the timing of insect development, where larvae tend to eat the fruits of early flowering plants. Also, over time, there was a shift toward primroses with lower amounts of insect-deterring chemicals in the fruits, suggesting that in the wild, selection had been strongest for defense against flower and fruit eating insects.

Finally, without insects, primroses were better able to compete against dandelions – primrose genotypes that led to larger plants were favored when compared to the controls.

“The effects of insect pests can have immediate consequences for plant health and also sweeping consequences for evolution of entire communities,” Agrawal said.

Video interview with Anurag Agrawal
Insect Herbivores Drive Real-Time Ecological and Evolutionary Change in Plant Populations
Insects shape the genetic landscape through plant defenses

Killer grass

It is believed that the previous two years of drought contributed to Tifton 85 grass producing cyanide gas that killed some cattle near Austin, Texas. Tifton 85 is a 1992 hybrid of Bermuda grass (Tifton 68 from Tifton, Georgia, US) and a South African grass, grown for its cold tolerance, high protein and digestibility.

The cattle died of prussic acid ( cyanide poisoning )

Cyanogenic glycosides in plants yield free hydrocyanic acid (HCN) aka prussic acid when plants are damaged.

Young plants and leaves of older plants contain dhurrin which can break down to release cyanide gas. This tends to be highest in young rapidly growing plants, especially those stunted by drought or damaged frost or other mechanical means. Heavy fertilizing with nitrogen in areas low in phosphorus is more likely to produce the gas. Treatment with 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid ( a broad leaf herbicide and pesticide ) also increases the risk.

It does decrease as plants die, decreasing slowest in drought stricken plants. The remaining acid may be concentrated in new shoots when regrowth begins. The darker the leaves, the higher the concentration.

Plants that can produce cyanide include: Apple, Apricot, Cherry, Peach, Elderberry, Flax, various sorghums, various grasses, hydrangea, lima bean, and others.

Tifton 85 Grass
Cyanide-Producing Grass Linked to Texas Cattle Deaths
Sorgums, sundangrasses for forage
effect of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid on Edogenous Cyanide, ($)

Insect damage to plants inoculates future generations

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

“We show that exposing tomato plants to some level of caterpillar herbivory will increase resistance for future plants—it’s sort of like a plant vaccine,” says Sergio Rasmann, a biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

Rasmann isn’t the only one seeing this effect. In a similar study, Ann Slaughter of the Universite de Neuchatel in Switzerland infected Arabidopsis thaliana plants with a benign strain of the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae (PstavrRpt2). The offspring were more resistant to disease than control groups, which were not infected in the first generation.

How does pest resistance get inherited? Researchers point to epigenetic mechanisms, which regulate gene expression and can be passed from one generation to the next without any changes to DNA sequences. The studies suggest known epigenetic factors like DNA methylation and histone modification mediate these effects, and are among the first to demonstrate siRNAs act as an epigenetic mechanism in plant defense responses.

original story

Descendants of Primed Arabidopsis Plants Exhibit Resistance to Biotic Stress
Herbivory in the Previous Generation Primes Plants for Enhanced Insect Resistance