The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: Byblis: the rainbow plants

Byblis liniflora
Byblis liniflora

Byblis liniflora
Byblis liniflora

Byblis gigantea
Byblis gigantea
A: The members of this genus look very much like lanky species of Drosera. However, their flowers are zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetric), which is a little different from the actinomorphic (radially symmetric) flowers of Drosera. This is not very obvious on some species, but look at the flower photograph on this page. Do you see how the anthers are bunched together a bit below the middle of the flower?

A name purportedly used for it is rainbow plant, although I have only ever heard one person use this name in conversation. It is completely goofy in my opinion, as it is supposed to note the way the gland droplets, if viewed at the correct angle with respect to the illumination source, refract light into spectral colours. This simple optical effect can be seen in Drosera, Drosophyllum, Pinguicula, grassy lawns, and freshly moistened pavement. I do not refer to such observations as "rainbow pavement", nor will I refer to these plants by such a name.

As names go, I much prefer the simpler Byblis. It brings forth the memory of the spicy hot granddaughter (or niece, depending on the telling) of the Roman god Apollo. Byblis was most-bodacious, and made Carmen Electra look positively dull.

(Kids--Carmen Electra was, well, oh never mind.)

But Carmen...I mean Byblis...made the nasty mistake of developing amorous feelings for her twin brother, Caunus. Even though this kind of thing was not completely forbidden for gods and their kin, her brother (presumably studly, although perhaps only in a quasi-effete, Justin Timberlake kind of way) spurned her. So she cried and cried and cried. And then, BLAM! She was turned into a fountain.

Byblis plants are covered with sticky hairs. Prey that land on Byblis get snagged in the slime and die in the plant's embrace. The plant does not exhibit any kind of prey-related motion; bugs just land on the plant and become stuck. Some, but not all, of the species in Byblis have been tested for digestive enzymes, and the results are in a state of mild discord. Byblis gigantea and B. filifolia have enzymes, but Byblis liniflora does not demonstrate enzymatic activity, at least not when examined by the classic film-emulsion test. However, sensitive fluorescence tests have detected phosphatase in Byblis liniflora. In all cases so far, the enzymes are exuded by inconspicuous sessile glands.

It has been frequently observed that Byblis plants host hemipteran insects (Setocoris sp.). These nasty, sharp-snouted scavengers crawl on the surface of the plant without being captured themselves, and vampiricly suck the juices out of captured prey. The poo from these bugs presumably benefit the plant.

The lack of enzymes, and the use of commensals to aide in digestion, means that some people do not consider them to be carnivorous. Obviously, I consider them to be...what about you?

Page citations: Conran, J.G. et al. 2002; Hartmeyer, S. 1997, 1998; Lowrie, A. 2013; Lowrie, A. & Conran, J.G. 1998; Plachno et al. 2006; Rice, B.A. 1993, 2006a; Schlauer, J. 2002; personal observations.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018