I've read that pitcher plants thrive in nitrogen-poor soil, which is solved by dissolving insects and absorbing nitrogen that way. I have a few plants, and when a pitcher start to rot, I cut it off and study the insects that've been trapped. I've never actually observed a dissolved insect. Both interior and exterior seems unharmed.

What digestive enzymes does the plant use? What part of the insect gets dissolved? What structures allows absorption and transport of nutrients into the plant? And how is it exploited?

  • $\begingroup$ You may upload a few small photographs of those insects which are not digested by the plant. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2016 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe they're just the ones that recently fell in. Older ones might have been digested. Just a guess! $\endgroup$
    – Polisetty
    Nov 7, 2016 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ No, they've not recently felled in. I usually feed them myself. Even insects placed there early in the season have not been visibly dissolved. Right now I only have one pitch left, as the plant is going into dormancy. I can post a pic of the content when the pitch start to rot. $\endgroup$
    – metazoa
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


Carnivorous plants use a variety of enzymes, including proteases which digest proteins to provide the plant with nitrogen. You might think that the hard exoskeleton would not be digested but pitcher plants (at least some types) produce chitinases which dissolve chitin (i.e. the exoskeleton), so there should be nothing left of the prey. The enzymes are secreted by tiny glands inside the pitcher.

The enzymes that have been detected in carnivorous plants include amylase, chitinase, esterase, lipase, peroxidase, phosphatase, protease, and ribonuclease.

From the Sarracenia faq.

Aside from the enzymes secreted by the plant, there are micro-organisms present in the pitcher which will dissolve organic matter.

In my experience of growing Nepenthes and Sarracenia it seems to take a long time for the prey to dissolve and there is always some material left. Which type of pitcher plant are you growing?

There's a good description of CP digestion from the ICPS. A more technical explanation about chitinase.

I can't find any specific detail on how the plant absorbs the nutrients, though even non-carnivorous plants can absorb nutrients through the leaf surface.


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