If you have ever wondered, “Are carnivorous plants dangerous to humans?” you may have been watching one too many horror movies. The plot of the movie was probably something along the lines of a group of people who got lost in a jungle. Somewhere they took a wrong turn, only to find themselves as the meal of a gigantic carnivorous plant. Right?
Table of contents
- The Danger of Carnivorous Plants: An Intro
- How Carnivorous Plants Are or Aren’t Dangerous to People
- The Danger of People to Carnivorous Plants
- 3 Plants That Are Dangerous to People
- Final Thoughts on Carnivorous Plants
Well, if you are wondering whether your carnivorous plant will suddenly decide to attack and eat you or if the plant is dangerous in other ways, you’ll find out soon enough.
The Danger of Carnivorous Plants: An Intro
Carnivorous plants are something of an oddity in nature. These are plants that actively predate on animals and insects. A carnivorous plant lies in wait for an unsuspecting insect or animal such as a frog to land on their open leaves, where the insect or frog gets stuck and is then drawn into the depths of the leaf to be digested.
If you are walking the depths of the rainforests of Borneo, you may find yourself face to face with the largest carnivorous plant on earth—the Nepenthes rajah. This carnivorous plant is known as a pitcher plant, and the leaves are jug-like. However, the leaves only reach a maximum size of a foot in diameter—so they can hardly swallow a human.
While carnivorous plants aren’t dangerous to people, we can be quite dangerous to them. Human activities are far more damaging to carnivorous plants and their habitats than these plants could ever be to us.
A carnivorous jug may be intimidating when it’s able to reach the size of a foot or more. While you may find the remains of small amphibians like frogs inside, these plants still lack the ability to hold and digest a living human being. Even a small child would not fit in the digestive jugs or fan-shaped leaves of carnivorous plants that so effectively trap insects and small animals.
How Carnivorous Plants Are or Aren’t Dangerous to People
Related: Carnivorous Plants for Indoors
Basically, carnivorous plants aren’t able to catch or digest prey as large as a person. Even if you were to cut up a human body and feed it to a carnivorous plant, the plant would still be unable to digest all of the remains.
Can a Carnivorous Plant Eat a Person?
While a carnivorous plant can digest some of a human body, there are some difficulties with this. For starters, the plant’s digestive traps or jugs are too small to fit a whole body. So you would have to cut up the body and feed it to the carnivorous plant.
Then, the density of human remains is too hard to digest for a carnivorous plant. While the plant could digest skin and blood, it would struggle with digesting complex tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and bone. The body would start rotting before the plant could digest it, leading to the plant being poisoned by decomposition elements like bacteria and harmful gasses that it can’t expel.
Can a Carnivorous Plant Poison a Person?
Again, a carnivorous plant needs to seal their prey in their digestive adaptations. They do this with leaves that close, such as the Venus flytrap, jugs filled with digestive enzymes like in the different pitcher plants, and leaves covered with digestive compounds like the butterworts.
For a human to be poisoned by these compounds, they would have to ingest a large amount of these plants or have an allergic reaction. Carnivorous plants aren’t really on our menu, so the chances of us ingesting poison or dying from these digestive enzymes is slim.
The Danger of People to Carnivorous Plants
Now you know that you will not be digested by your pet Venus flytrap like the people-eating plant in The Little Shop of Horrors, it’s time to realize who the real carnivorous predator is—us! Humans are responsible for massive damage to the fragile ecologies that support plants like the Venus flytrap, sundew, and the Nepenthes rajah.
People destroy the naturally nutrient poor habitats of bogs and marshes that allowed carnivorous plants to evolve. Deforestation and agricultural encroachment on the boggy marshes where these plants thrive have led to many carnivorous species being declared endangered.
Feeding the human need to explore and capture, many carnivorous plants have been removed from their natural habitat. Lack of knowledge leads to the death of these plants that are delicate and require specialized care.
The simple act of watering your carnivorous plant with tap water can be enough to kill them. Overfeeding your carnivorous plant can also lead to their death as these plants need a fasting period when they are dormant and don’t feed.
Even harsh handling can lead to these fragile plants’ deaths. It may be interesting to stick your finger into a Venus flytrap’s leafy “cage” and make it close because you have stimulated the sensitive trigger hair, tricking the plant into thinking a meal has landed. However, the act of closing and opening its leaves is draining to the plant, and soon it will sicken and die.
Therefore, playing with your Venus flytrap or any other carnivorous plant is irresponsible.
3 Plants That Are Dangerous to People
If carnivorous plants are not interested in or capable of digesting people, what plants are dangerous to people? Surprisingly, there are a number of plants that are lethal to people.
The plant kingdom has provided some of nature’s most lethal toxins that will kill animals and people indiscriminately. Consider these three dangerous plants and you will soon realize that carnivorous plants aren’t a danger to us at all.
The leafy hemlock is one of the oldest poisons known throughout history. Often mistaken for celery, hemlock contains cicutoxin, which is deadly when ingested.
The Belladonna or deadly nightshade is one of the most deadly plants on earth. Simply brushing against this plant releases neurotoxins to the body, which are absorbed through our skin. The toxins atropine and scopolamine paralyze the involuntary muscles of the body, specifically the muscles that help us breathe, and death follows swiftly.
This simple, but useful plant, is also a deadly one. The seeds of the castor plant can be processed to make castor oil, which is fairly harmless to people (unless you drink gallons of it). Yet, the seeds also contain ricin, which stops protein synthesis in the body, leading to a painful death.
Final Thoughts on Carnivorous Plants
Before you look at the harmless Venus flytrap or pitcher plants in horror, keep in mind that these plants are an integral part of nature, and they are perfectly harmless to people. Unless you are hyperallergic to chemicals and plants, you wouldn’t even get a rash from touching a carnivorous plant, yet you can kill a carnivorous plant by simply watering it.
Your plant won’t yell, “Feed me, Seymour,” so don’t overfeed your carnivorous plant and don’t fertilize its soil either. Carnivorous plants are part of nature’s unique biodiversity that lets these plants live in the gray area between herbivore and carnivore while they help control insects, frogs, and even lizard populations.