Dionaea Venus Fly Trap

HISTORY

Governor Arthur Dobbs of North Carolina, U.S.A., was the first person to describe the plant which he named the "Fly Trap Sensitive" and which later became known as the Venus Fly Trap. In 1760 he communicated this discovery, and in particular the plant's ability to close and trap objects, to Mr. P. Collinson of England. Later Mr. J. Bartram of Philadelphia sent specimens of these plants, which he knew as "Tipitiwitchet," to Mr. P. Collinson. Study of these plants by Mr. J. Ellis and Dr. D. Solander led to their observation of the similarity of the new plant to the already familiar Drosera. Ellis was the first to have an inkling of the possible carnivorous nature of the Venus Fly Trap and conveyed this idea to Linnaeus, the famous eighteenth century biologist, by letter, a portion which reads:

But the plant, of which I now enclose you an exact figure, with a specimen of its leaves and blossoms, shews, that nature may have some view towards nourishment, in forming the upper joint of the leaf like a machine to catch food: upon the middle of this lies the bait for the unhappy insect that becomes its prey. Many minute red glands, cover its inner surface, and which perhaps discharge sweet liquor, tempt the poor animal to taste them; and the instant these tender parts are irritated by its feet, the two lobes rise up, grasp it fast, lock the row of spines together, and squeeze it to death. And, further, lest the strong efforts for life, in the creature thus taken, should serve to disengage it, three small erect spines are fixed near the middle of each lobe, among the glands, that effectually put an end to all its struggles. Nor do the lobes ever open again, while the dead animal continues there. Despite this letter, which contains inaccuracies, Linnaeus was not convinced of the carnivorous habit of this plant and merely regarded the movement as another case of irritability similar to that of the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica, and believed that the insects were later released. Ellis' erroneous belief in the function of the three erect spines, which were discovered to be trigger hairs on the inner surface of the trap, was also shared by Erasmus Darwin who wrote:

In the Dionaea muscipula there is a still more wonderful contrivance to prevent the depredations of insects: the leaves are armed with long teeth, like the antennae of insects, and lie spread upon the ground around the stem, and are so irritable, that when an insect creeps upon them they fold up and crush or pierce it to death.

Ellis named the plant Dionaea. The origin of the name Dionaea muscipula, Venus Fly Trap, has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology. In Greek Dione is the mother of Aphrodite or sometimes used as another name for Aphrodite goddess of love. To the Romans, Venus was their goddess of love.

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