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Before they were CPs...

Joined
May 19, 2013
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283
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New Haven, CT
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?id=dul1.ark:/13960/t12n6fs5m;view=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?
 
Joined
Feb 10, 2014
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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.
 
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
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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.

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.
 
Joined
May 19, 2013
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New Haven, CT
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...semester-2-2013/tess-seminar-dr-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.
 
Joined
May 19, 2013
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New Haven, CT
Nice! Like Homer's nepenthe, these plants definitely have certain anti-depressant properties, at least for those of us who collect them! :-D
 

Dexenthes

Aristoloingulamata
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Dec 6, 2008
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Southern Tongass Rainforest, Alaska
Very interesting thread indeed. I am sure that early man must have been quite curious as to what purpose Pinguicula and Drosera served as they are noticeably different looking plants than most others.

There's also a rumor going around that some N. lowii have been known to entirely separate from their roots - vining off into the canopy living off of nothing but their older pitchers and newer growth.
 
Joined
Aug 27, 2001
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Western New York, USA
And dont forget that before the 19th century, perhaps even before the 20th century, 99.999% of people on the Earth thought *nothing* of CP's..
because they were not aware they even existed! ;)
Only two very small groups of people would have been aware of them at all:
1. The locals who happened to live among the plants.
2. a very small and select group of scientists who had access to books and scientific journals.

Today we take it for granted that we can find out about virtually anything, anywhere..
That was not the case in the recent past..

Scot
 
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