How Does a Pitcher Plant Dispose of Something Indigestible?

Inside pitcher plant

It’s not a common thing that something indigestible would fall into a Nepenthes pitcher plant. But how does the pitcher plant dispose of something indigestible like a stone, or something else, if it fell into it?

The digestive juices inside a pitcher plant are not strong enough to digest something indigestible like a stone. The indigestible object will remain in the pitchers’ trap until the trap falls off or the plant dies.

To find out what exactly happens to something indigestible that falls into the pitchers’ trap, you have to understand how the trapping mechanism of the plant works, let’s find out!

Photo by: Chmee2

What happens to the mistakenly fallen indigestible things?

The juice secreted by the pitcher plant is considered really strong to break any kind of hard insect skin. But still, it is not that strong to even digest hard things such as stones.

If in the case any kind of such thing mistakenly drops in the pitcher plant, the juice present inside the cavity is not able to break it or digest it and neither such things get dissolved by the strong acidic juice present in the pitcher plant.

The major thing is that the pitcher plant is not able to throw such kinds of indigestible objects out of the plant. Because if once any object like small insects and stones fall inside the pitcher plant can be returned out neither itself nor any efforts can be made by the plants as it is not in its mechanism and neither it’s structure supports to get the object out again (unless the object is thrown out by a monkey or purposely taken out by a human, but those odds are really small).

Now the major thing or the question that arises here is that if such things are indigestible than how does the plant disposed of it or what happens to such an indigestible thing? The straight answer to this question is that such substances do not get disposed of or digested by the pitcher plant.

These substances generally remain in the body of the plants as long as it survives and we finally obtain them when the plants die. Even in some cases if somewhat big sized stones are getting dropped in the pitcher plant and stuck in the cavity of the plant where the insects are generally trapped then the plants do not sustain for a long duration. 

How does the pitcher plant traps

The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that derives maximum of its nutrients from trapping and consuming small insects or animals, mainly insects and other arthropods. Such types of carnivorous plants are adapted to grow in places where the soil is thin or poor in nutrients, especially the nitrogen.

Pitcher plants depend on the insects they trap for their nutrient requirement. The juice secreted by the pitcher plants helps it to digest the insects trapped by them. but how does the pitcher plant trap these insects?

Drawn pitcher plant

There are three phases in the trapping cycle of pitcher plants

Stunning Zamioculcas zamiifolia 360...
Stunning Zamioculcas zamiifolia 360° View
  1. The plant must first lure prey.
  2. Then the plant must trap the prey.
  3. Finally, the plant has to digest the prey.

To lure insects to the trap, the Nepenthes pitcher plant secretes sweet nectar that attracts small insects and other animals. The sweet nectar is secreted on the upper rim (the peristome) and the lid of the pitcher.

To trap insects inside the trap, the peristome is evaluated in such a way that it has a smooth surface with ribs that will cause an insect that walks on the rim to slide into the pitcher cup. Once the prey has fallen into the trap, the inside of the trap is coated with a waxy substance. Together with the overlaying peristome of the pitcher, the insect that is trapped inside the pitcher will be unable to crawl out.

Photo by: WikiCommons

What happens to the trapped insects?

The third phase of the trapping cycle of the pitcher plant is the digestion phase.

Once an insect gets trapped in the pitcher cup of the pitcher plant does not get out of the trap so easily and once it gets trapped it is almost impossible to get out of the cavity due to the slippery nature and its overgrown peristome. 

The major thing that acts in digesting the insects in the pitcher is the juice present in the pitcher plant which contains enzymes and certain bacteria that break the insects down. It consists of some really special kinds of chemicals which are found in our stomach as well. This juice helps in easily breaking down the skin of the insects until it gets completely dissolved and finally takes in the essential nutrients through the pitcher trap.

Nepenthes rajah
Photo by: Ch’ien Lee

This kind of digestion process is just common in the day-to-day lifestyle of the pitcher plant. The pitcher plant is the most dangerous carnivorous plant that can digest even bigger insects such as frogs, and even small mammals but mainly trapping small insects like mosquitoes and other bugs.

Thus, the pitcher plant falls in the category of carnivorous plants which majorly feeds on the small insects and even some small animals for the necessary nutrients that they require. This is one of the most unique plants of its own kind.

It has the most favorable juices in its cavity which supports the digestion of the prey that it captures but still it is not enough even to digest or dispose of the indigestible substances such as stones and other similar things. These kinds of things last long in the pitcher plants until they die because there is no way out and neither the plant is able to dispose of it.

And if in the case any bigger objects are encountered then it probably would be the end of the plant. And also the plant is incapable of having the big size animals and humans as it does not have such a wide cavity to form in.