Carnivorous Plant Families
In modern biology, all living organisms are arranged into hierarchical groups known as clades. Organisms within a clade share a common genetic ancestor; this is known as being monophyletic.
Clades at different levels of the hierarchy have different names, for example orders contain families which contain genera which contain species.
Carnivory is so far known from at least twelve families in five different orders, all of which belong to the higher-level clade Angiospermae (flowering plants).
The Caryophyllales are a diverse order of flowering plants whose members include beetroot, cacti, carnations as well as four families of carnivorous plants.
The Dioncophyllaceae are a family of lianas native to rainforests of western Africa. The family contains three genera, each with only one species. One of these, Tryphyophyllum peltatum, is the world’s largest carnivorous plant — producing vines that can be to up to 50 metres in length. It only produces carnivorous leaves during one phase of its lifecycle and its carnivory was not recognised until 1979, more than 50 years after it was first discovered. The other species within Dioncophyllaceae are not believed to be carnivorous.
The family Droseraceae is the most widespread of the carnivorous plant families, with examples being found on every continent except Antarctica. The family contains three genera with two different trapping methods — Drosera (Sundews) have sticky traps, while Aldrovanda (Waterwheel Plant) and Dionaea (Venus Flytrap) have snap traps.
The family Nepentheceae contains only one genus, the Tropical Pitcher Plants Nepenthes. This is a large genus with around 170 species that are native to the tropics of the Eastern hemisphere, ranging from China to Australia.
The family Nepentheceae contains only one genus, the Tropical Pitcher Plants Nepenthes. This is a large genus with around 170 species that are native to the rainforests of the Eastern hemisphere, ranging from China to Australia.
The Ericales are another highly diverse order of flowering plants whose members include azaleas, rhododendrons, kiwifruit, heather, tea and two families of carnivorous plants.
Roridulaceae contains just one genus, Roridula, with two species. These are tall carnivorous shrubs with sticky traps found only in South Africa, where they can grow to a height of up to 2 metres.
The family Sarraceniaceae contains more than 30 species of carnivorous pitcher plants in three genera. Darlingtonia (the Cobra Lily) and Sarracenia (Trumpet Pitchers) are native to North America while Heliamphora (Sun Pitchers) are found only in South America where they live on rain-drenched mountain tops.
The Lamiales, sometimes known as the mint order, is one of the largest orders of flowering plants. It contains well over 20,000 species including many aromatic herbs (including lavender, jasmine, basil and mint); several important trees such as ash and teak; and three families of carnivorous plants plus another family with protocarnivorous species.
The Byblidaceae family contains one genus, Byblis (the Rainbow Plants). These are carnivorous plants with sticky traps found in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia.
By far the largest family of carnivorous plants, Lentibulariaceae contains three genera and well over 300 species. Each genus within the family has a distinctly different trapping mechanism: Genlisea (Corkscrew Plants) use lobster-pot traps; Pinguicula (Butterworts) have sticky traps; and as their common name suggests Utricularia (Bladderworts) catch prey using bladder traps.
Plantaginaceae, the plantains, are a large and diverse group of plants which include the foxgloves and snapdragons among many others. One recently-described genus in this family, Philcoxia, is believed to be carnivorous. Philcoxia species are native to Brazil and prey on tiny worms using sticky underground leaves.
The Oxalidales are an order of flowering plants that are mostly shrubs and trees and which are distantly related to peas, beans and roses. The order has a single carnivorous species.
Cephalotaceae is a family of carnivorous plants with one genus and only a single species, the Albany Pitcher Plant Cephalotus follicularis which is native to south-west Australia.
The Alismatales are an order of flowering plants found mostly in marshy or aquatic environments. They include arrowgrasses, seagrasses and pondweeds. One family within the order contains a carnivorous species.
The family Tofieldiaceae contains four genera of small herbaceous plants mostly found in Arctic or sub-Arctic regions. A single species within the genus Triantha — Triantha occidentalis — was only discovered to be carnivorous in 2021, making it the most recently identified carnivorous plant.
The Poales are perhaps the most economically important order among all plants. They include grasses (such as wheat, rice and maize) as well as bromeliads and sedges. One family includes carnivorous species.
The Bromeliad family Bromeliaceae consists of around 80 genera of tropical plants, mostly found in the Americas, and includes the pineapple. The family also contains two genera with species believed to be carnivorous — Brocchinea and Catopsis.