2015 Photo Contest, Nature, Stories, 2nd prize

Vegetables with an Attitude

Photographer

Christian Ziegler

National Geographic Magazine/GEO

12 September, 2013

A Villose pitcher plant (Nepenthes villosa) growing among orchids, 3,100 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. Its pitcher-shaped leaves trap and digest small organisms. Snails often use the pitchers of this species to lay their eggs in—a reliably moist and safe environment that is hard to find on the steep slopes, in harsh sunlight.

Carnivorous plants have evolved in a number of different parts of the world, generally in response to low-nutrient environments. While other plants are struggling to find nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, carnivorous plants gather food in ingenious ways. Until recently, scientists thought all carnivorous plants operated in a similar way, catching insects and digesting them. But we are now discovering plant-animal interaction to be more complex, and to involve all manner of sophisticated symbiotic relationships.

Carnivorous plants have evolved repeatedly in different parts of the world, always in response to super low nutrient environments. While other plants are struggling to find nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, carnivorous plants catch these themselves in ingenious ways. Until recently scientists thought they all operated in a similar way, catching bugs and digesting them. However, we are now discovering that things are much more complicated, with an amazing variety of complex plant-animal interactions.

About

Christian Ziegler

He is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and has been widely published in other magazines such as Geo, Smithsonian, and BBC Wildlife. Christian’s aim is to hig...

Background story

A Villose pitcher-plant (Nepenthes villas) grows among orchids at a 3,100-meter elevation on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Asia’s highest peak. Snails often use the pitchers of this species to lay their eggs in—a reliably moist and safe environment that is hard to find on the steep slopes with harsh sun and frequent downpours.

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/6
Focal length
16.0 mm
F-Stop
18.0
ISO
320
Camera
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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