Scientists combing Cape York for new carnivorous plant
SCIENTISTS are scouring the crocodile-infested swamps of Cape York in search of new species of carnivorous plants.
Insect-devouring pitcher plants grow naturally across the tropical world, and are a popular cultivar among gardeners.
Very little, however, is known about their natural distribution and evolution in Australia.
Researchers from James Cook University, Monash University will traverse the Cape and Papua New Guinea to collect new specimens to determine the extent of the rare and unusual plants.
Australian Tropical Herbarium botanist Gary Wilson, who is based at JCU Cairns, describes the three-year project as a scientific and logistic challenge.
“In comparison with everything else, we know diddly squat about these plants,” he said.
“The real difficulty in doing this, is in Australia, most of the plants, in fact two species in particular, live in very large swamps in Cape York full of crocodiles.
“They’re really hard to work in.''
A new species of pitcher plant – Nepenthes tenax – was discovered in 2006 in northern Cape York, growing up to 1m tall with vines up to 25cm high. Pitcher plants gain most of their nutrients from consuming insects such as ants, bees and wasps they trap inside their cup-shaped leaves.
Results from the project would provide more information about the biodiversity of Cape York, to better inform land management decisions.
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Up close: Botanist Gary Wilson is determined to find out more about the carnivorous plants which live at Cape York. Picture: JAKE NOWAKOWSKI