With its sticky, translucent tentacles, the Drosera capensis, or Cape sundew, looks more like something you’d expect to see growing on the surface of an alien planet than on a sunny windowsill in the suburbs. But, according to plant expert Peter D’Amato, they’re actually among the easiest carnivorous plants to grow.
Indigenous to South Africa, the Cape sundew is a favorite of carnivorous plant aficionados the world over. Not only do they grow year-round and thrive in a variety of climates, but they “hunt” their prey in a pretty spectacular manner. In the video above, watch up close as one Cape sundew plant uses its tentacles to trap and entomb an insect. Simultaneously fascinating and unsettling, the Cape sundew is just one of the many amazing carnivorous plants out there.
According to London’s Natural History Museum, there are about 630 carnivorous plant species known to science, and all wonderfully adapted to consume meat. Smaller carnivorous species eat microscopic prey, such as bacteria; medium-sized plants subsist on insects and their larvae, crustaceans, or even little fish. The largest meat-eating species in the plant kingdom can down vertebrates.
Nepenthes rajah, a species of pitcher plant native to Borneo, is the world’s biggest flesh-eating plant. Its bulbous, crimson-toned pitcher can hold about 3 liters (0.79 gallons) of water and 2.5 liters (0.66 gallons) of digestive juices, in which it traps any prey that happens to fall in, including lizards, frogs, birds, small mammals, and insects. This spectacular species is classified as endangered due to its need for very specific growing conditions in Borneo’s subalpine forests.
American plant enthusiasts are probably most familiar with the diminutive Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), which is endemic to the coastal longleaf pine forests of the Carolinas. In recent decades, habitat loss and poaching have threatened the adorable meat-eaters’ survival. North Carolina outlawed collection of the plants from the wild in 2014, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to add the Venus flytrap to the Endangered Species List in July 2023, claiming that it didn’t meet the requirements for designation.
A version of this story was published in 2016; it has been updated for 2023.