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Thread: Before they were CPs...

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    anramitaco's Avatar
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    Before they were CPs...

    Most of us are fascinated by carnivorous plants because they are, well, carnivorous. But I've often wondered what people thought of them before Darwin came along, since they are rather amazing in appearance alone.

    For example, here and there in pre-nineteenth-century books, you'll find some mention of the sundew as ros solis (yup, dew of the sun) and references to an after-dinner drink also called ros solis, which allegedly helped digestion and is reported to have been a favorite of Louis XIV, known for his prodigious appetite. The plant captured the imagination because it appeared to remain covered in dew despite the heat of the day. From what I can tell, a lot of people simply marveled at this botanical wonder. Herbalists, though, surmised that it would combat dehydration and resolve pulmonary problems. Personally, it's the theologians I find most interesting. Sundews crop up all over the place as symbols of Mary (who "attracted the dew of the divine," according to one author) and the fleece of Gideon. I recently stumbled on this gem, which also has a little engraving of a sundew:

    http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?i...ew=1up;seq=204

    The gist is as follows: just as the sundew grows in low, swampy places, so too does the Christian humble himself, etc. The altar is the sun, the dew is grace, etc.

    I thought fellow CP enthusiasts might get a kick out of this. Is anyone else interested in the roles these plants play in culture, especially before their carnivory was confirmed?

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    PsychoSarah's Avatar
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    It was interesting, for the longest time people thought the liquid in nepenthes pitchers was to store water in case of drought or some other such thing. Which I find hilarious because I don't think drought is much of a risk where most nepenthes grow. My favorite part about what people thought of the plants before their carnivory was discovered is what they thought the trap mechanisms were for.

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    Whimgrinder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PsychoSarah View Post
    It was interesting, for the longest time people thought the liquid in nepenthes pitchers was to store water in case of drought or some other such thing. Which I find hilarious because I don't think drought is much of a risk where most nepenthes grow. My favorite part about what people thought of the plants before their carnivory was discovered is what they thought the trap mechanisms were for.
    For species like N. lowii this is still believed to be true, as it is not unheard of for the plants to experience prolonged low-to-no rain periods in habitat. Perhaps not full-on drought conditions, but it seems pretty clear that the pitchers serve the purpose of a reservoir during diminished rainfall times. To what extent this is true of other species is unclear, but it should not be discounted wholesale.

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    anramitaco's Avatar
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    pitchers serve the purpose of a reservoir during diminished rainfall times
    Interesting. And I've read that many nepenthes from areas with dry seasons have thickened rootstocks, too. Though I don't think they use pitchers as reservoirs (maybe they do?). I stumbled upon this video lecture recently, about the influence of a drier climate on trap mechanisms: http://research.jcu.edu.au/research/...-charles-clark

    My favorite part about what people thought of the plants before their carnivory was discovered is what they thought the trap mechanisms were for.
    The first European to describe a nepenthes recounts that the native population of Madagascar believed that if someone spilled liquid from a trap, it would rain that day. In other superstitious beliefs, in early modern Europe, people didn't think much about what the trap mechanisms were for because they generally weren't considered traps to begin with. Thanks to the doctrine of signatures (nature marks plants according to their curative powers), the dew on a drosera was a signal that the plant was good for fighting dehydration and "dry" coughs.

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    anramitaco's Avatar
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    Nice! Like Homer's nepenthe, these plants definitely have certain anti-depressant properties, at least for those of us who collect them!

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    hcarlton's Avatar
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    The fluid in newly opened Nepenthes pitchers also seems to have a bit of an anesthetic effect, from personal experience.
    Everything has a reason, whether big or small. Never underestimate the power of what is or is not.
    There is far more to everything than meets the eye.
    Growlist

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    PsychoSarah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hcarlton View Post
    The fluid in newly opened Nepenthes pitchers also seems to have a bit of an anesthetic effect, from personal experience.
    I have heard some people say putting the liquid on cuts makes them heal faster too.
    Come to me flies and crawling bugs. This plant wants to give you great big hugs
    Aren't I pretty, don't I smell good? I'd come to you if I could
    But I can't so you must come to me, I'm sure we will get along splendidly

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