Friday, April 12, 2002

If They Don't Eat You, They'll Shoot You: Botanist Publishes Definitive Book On Triggerplants

Chestertown, MD, April 12, 2002 — Triggerplants, nature's quick drawing, gunslingers, have been relatively unknown to most naturalists and horticulturalists in the Northern Hemisphere. But Dr. Douglas Darnowski, assistant professor of biology at Washington College on Maryland's Eastern Shore, hopes to make these unusual floras better known to and more widely cultivated by plant lovers. His new book, "Triggerplants", has just been released by Rosenberg Publishing of New South Wales, Australia.
Triggerplants get their name from the unique trigger mechanism that they employ, called a "column," to deposit pollen on unsuspecting insect interlopers. The columns use an electrochemical process to bend and store energy, much like an extended bow, waiting to strike a landed insect.
"These plants are amazingly precise," says Darnowski, who recently co-founded the International Triggerplant Society to promote knowledge of and appreciation for these species. "Many species of triggerplants use the same insects as pollinators, but given a species-specific configuration of their columns, they each strike the insect at a different point on its body and thereby avoid constant hybridization. The plants also direct the way in which an insect lands on them by the orientation of their petals."
Triggerplants, Darnowski notes, might also have a carnivorous nature and usually share the same environments and grow in the same poor soils favored by other accepted carnivorous plants. Like the sundew, these plants utilize sticky tendrils to capture and to digest small insects, possibly to supplement their diets. But triggerplants do not eat the same bugs that they "shoot" to carry their pollen, says Darnowski. Large insects help them to spread their pollen, while smaller insects are trapped and eaten by the sticky, glandular hairs.
Most of the world's triggerplant species are found in Western Australia, which is home to over 100 different kinds, but related species can be found in Central and Southeast Asia, Japan and New Guinea. Darnowski hopes that his book will take triggerplants out of the exotic climes of Australia and Asia and into greenhouses and gardens worldwide.
"I encourage horticulturalists to cultivate new plants from seed," he says. "This ensures native plants and their natural habitats are not disturbed. Cultivating triggerplants from seed in a garden or greenhouse is not that difficult, even in most North American climes. They have an innate toughness and are attractive and easy to grow, hardy to cold and drought resistant. They even have a number of features which suggest that they would make good garden plants, unlikely to become new, invasive species."
"Triggerplants" is profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings, and includes a list of triggerplant suppliers. The book will be available for purchase through and by July 2002.

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