Chemonastic Stalked Glands in the Carnivorous Rainbow Plant Byblis gigantea LINDL. (Byblidaceae, Lamiales)

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Sep 29;23(19):11514. doi: 10.3390/ijms231911514.


Carnivorous rainbow plants (Byblis, Byblidaceae, Lamiales) possess sticky flypaper traps for the capture, retention, and digestion of prey (mainly small insects). The trapping system is based on a multitude of millimeter-sized glandular trichomes (also termed stalked glands), which produce adhesive glue drops. For over a century, the trapping system of Byblis was considered passive, meaning that no plant movement is involved. Recently, a remarkable discovery was made: the stalked glands of Byblis are indeed capable of reacting to chemical (protein) stimuli with slow movement responses. This prompted us to investigate this phenomenon further with a series of experiments on the stimulation, kinematics, actuation, and functional morphology of the stalked glands of cultivated Byblis gigantea plants. Measured stalked gland lengths and densities on the trap leaves are similar to the data from the literature. Motion reactions could only be triggered with chemical stimuli, corroborating the prior study on the stalked gland sensitivity. Reaction time (i.e., time from stimulation until the onset of motion) and movement duration are temperature-dependent, which hints towards a tight physiological control of the involved processes. The stalked gland movement, which consist of a sequence of twisting and kinking motions, is rendered possible by the components of the stalk cell wall and is furthermore anatomically and mechanically predetermined by the orientation of cellulose microfibrils in the cell wall. Successive water displacement processes from the stalk cell into the basal cells actuate the movement. The same kinematics could be observed in stalked glands drying in air or submersed in a saturated salt solution. Stimulated and dried stalked glands as well as those from the hypertonic medium were capable of regaining their initial shape by rehydration in water. However, no glue production could be observed afterwards. The long-time overlooked chemonastic movements of stalked glands may help Byblis to retain and digest its prey; however, further research is needed to shed light on the ecological characteristics of the rainbow plant's trapping system.

Keywords: biomechanics; carnivory; functional morphology; prey capture; trichome.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnivorous Plant*
  • Cellulose
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Lamiales*
  • Plants
  • Water


  • Water
  • Cellulose

Grants and funding

S.P. and T.S. acknowledge funding by BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany, and the Ministry of Science Research and Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, who supported this research within the frame of the Academic Research Alliance JONAS (“Joint Research Network on Advanced Materials and Systems”) established jointly with BASF SE and the University of Freiburg, Germany. S.P., N.K., and T.S. acknowledge funding by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy—EXC-2193/1—390951807.