The Carnivorous Plants of Tortuguero Lagoon

Situated between the municipalities of Manatí and Vega Baja, the Tortuguero lagoon covers an area of about 2.43 square kilometers and is Puerto Rico’s only freshwater lagoon. The lagoon is incorporated in the Tortuguero Lagoon Nature Reserve which also features marshes, swamps and silica sand deposits. The reserve provides a range of terrain supporting wildlife and some fascinating flora, including seven species of carnivorous plants. These include species of bladderworts (Utricularia) and sundews (Drosera), both of which are considered by conservationists to be endangered and in need of protection.

The sundew’s name is a reference to the drops of sticky substance, called mucilage, that gather on the tips of its tentacles, resembling drops of dew found on plants in the early morning. It is this sticky substance which enables the sundew to capture the insects they need to survive. Research has shown that carnivorous, or insectivorous, plants lack some of the enzymes present in other plants, and are therefore unable to derive all their nutritional requirements from the soil. Instead, they meet their nutritional needs by digesting insects. The plants use their sweet, sticky secretions to attract and trap insects, and then secrete a range of enzymes to dissolve the insect, with the resultant liquid being absorbed through the surface of its leaves. The sundew’s tentacles are exceptionally sensitive to any movement around it, responding in seconds, or even tenths of a second, when touched.

Sundews produce beautiful flowers which grow well clear of its mucilage-tipped tentacles, although it has been determined that sundews do not consume pollinating insects and quite a number of sundew species are self-pollinating. The continued existence of sundews is primarily threatened by habitat destruction. In Puerto Rico, the Tortuguero Lagoon was designated as a nature reserve in December 1979, as authorities acknowledged its importance to the ecology of the region. Be sure to take some time to examine these fascinating plants when visiting the Tortuguero Lagoon Nature Reserve in Puerto Rico.