Foraging is a good way to source food but humans plucking things out of the ground can sometimes have a negative influence on the environment by increasing a species' risk of extinction, something that’s currently happening to a carnivorous pitcher plant which – from the right angle – looks a lot like a human penis. The phallic botanical in question is Nepenthes bokorensis, reports Live Science, and environmental experts are asking that we all leave it well alone.
The plea comes from Cambodia's Ministry of Environment who recently shared photos on Facebook of some people frolicking among the carnivorous penis plants. It came in response to a video shared in which N. bokorensis was being picked, presumably for what we can only imagine to be a perplexing bouquet.
The MoE’s plea asks that people not harvest plants while appreciating nature, and they make a fine point. N. bokorensis is found on Phnom Bokor in Cambodia and while Kew reports that it is fairly common, it sits within a habitat that is already under threat from degradation due to human interference.
A phallic flower certainly lifts the spirits, but this nepenthes also closely mirrors the more endangered species N. holdenii. As such, the carnivorous plants could do without penis plants becoming a sought-after variety.
Like other nepenthes, N. bokorensis is a pitcher plant and uses its bell to trap prey (the species' favorite is thought to be ants). The insects slip from the slippery rim into a pit of acidic fluid which gradually dissolves its contents into a nutritious soup.
Other species of carnivorous plants tackle considerably meatier prey such as salamanders, and some have even evolved to enjoy shrew urine.
Suddenly ants feel practically gourmet.
While it’s hard to see murderous plants as being vulnerable, research has warned that as much as a quarter of carnivorous plant species could be at risk of extinction. The culprits? Anthropogenic habitat degradation and environmental change.
Carnivorous plants first evolved in nutrient-impoverished areas as they adapted to fulfill a new niche by munching on insects and animals instead of soil-based nutrients. Unfortunately, this puts carnivorous plants at a disadvantage if conditions suddenly change, having little in the way of backup nutrition if one day all the animals should leave.
Their delicate existence means carnivorous plants are often the first to go when humanity plonks a development down in their neighborhood and slashes biodiversity. As such, the future of N. bokorensis could come under threat in light of extensive development at Phnom Bokor.
The takeaway? By all means, marvel at the phallic wonder of some of Earth’s most NSFW plant species, but please – hands off.
[H/T: Live Science]