Nursery features hundreds of predator plants
SMITHSBURG, Md. — Michael Szesze’s nursery is home to carnivorous beings that lure in the living, kill them and digest them.
The predatory plants — sundews, Venus flytraps and pitcher plants — thrive in coastal wetlands where tides wash through muddy bogs and carry off the nutrients.
The plants find nutrition by feasting on bugs.
Szesze and wife Pamela provide them the sunshine and mineral-free soils that they need.
The greenhouse at their Carnivorous Plant Nursery is set amid 23 acres of plant beds that boast more than 600 of the 1,000 or so flesh-eating types that exist worldwide.
There, the couple propagates and breeds long and slender sundews that slowly curl their dewdrop-edged antennae over their prey until they squeeze the life out of them. Pitcher plants, with lily-like tubes that open toward the sky, are insulated with hairs that carry bugs downward “so when the bug goes in, it’s a one-way trip,” Szesze said.
Venus flytraps simply snap their wide, bear trap-shaped mouths shut after unsuspecting insects land on them.
They tend to get more attention than the others do, Szesze said.
Carnivorous plants have enzymes that allow them to digest their prey into simpler minerals that they use to grow and reproduce.
Charles Darwin first recorded evidence of their digestive ability in the late 1800s, but the plants existed before the most recent ice age.
Fossil discoveries of species such as sundews have been found to date back some 35 to 47 million years, when temperatures were at a mean of as much as 86 degrees F.
Ocean circulations then reduced temperatures, changing forests to open savanna. An ice age set in, and seas subsided.
Many Mid-Atlantic bogs have been transformed into farms and forests, Dr. Phil Sheridan, president of the Meadowview Biological Research Station in Woodford, Va., said.
The plants have in this warming era become more common in the southeast, and their habitat is considered one of the most endangered around.
Most terrestrial carnivorous plants are threatened with extinction, according to the Meadowview Biological Research Station. Their lookalikes meanwhile survive untethered in water.
There as invertebrates rather than plants, Venus flytraps lurk some 1,500 to 5,000 feet beneath the surface — drifting above the muddy bottom.
The anemones unlike animals before them lack a nervous system, according to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring, NY.
Szesze, a retired high school biology teacher, has been growing carnivorous plants for 50 years. Until he introduced his students to the plants, he said, they rolled their eyes and thought the subject was boring.
Szesze and Pamela in 2000 opened the Carnivorous Plant Nursery with hundreds of plants.
Carnivorous Plant Nursery varieties draw so much interest that many people now add water features or create bog gardens so that people can see them, Szesze said, assuring that they are not dangerous to much more than insects.
The Ginter Botanical Garden has set aside 50 acres for a public bog garden and has filled it with pitcher plants.
The schoolchildren “love them,” Beth Monroe, the Louis Ginter Botanical Garden marketing and public relations director. “A plant that eats bugs? How cool is that?”
Some Carnivorous Plant Nursery customers use the plants to reduce the number of flies near horse barns, others to help rid the damp air of mosquitoes, Szesze said.
“They never get rid of all of the insects, but they are very good at catching wasps, flies, yellow jackets, stinkbugs, ants and mosquitoes,” he said. “Which bugs they catch depends on the size of their traps.”
Schools, research institutions, museums, garden centers and hobbyists are among the Carnivorous Plant Nursery’s retail customers.
“Another group is just really curious about weird plants,” Szesze said.
The Szeszes’ wide selection of carnivorous plant species include Albany, California, tropical and trumpet pitcher plants, several varieties of sun pitchers and 54 cultivars of Venus flytraps — Red Dragons, Czech Giants and King Henrys included.
The Carnivorous Plant Nursery sells them as seeds and plants and in terrarium sets.
Prices begin at around $3. Most are within the $6 to $12 range, Szesze said.
Gifts available for purchase at the Carnivorous Plant Nursery include carnivorous plant stamps and a copy of Darwin’s “Insectivorous Plants,” which is priced at $224.95.
Free educational activities are available for download on the Carnivorous Plant Nursery website, and Szesze offers workshops and presentations.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925