One of the many interesting plants found in watery places like bogs are Pitcherplants, some of the carnivores of the plant world. Digestion of animal matter is essential to their existence in a boggy, wet environment that routinely dissolves and carries away nutrients the plants need.
Bogs not only have water-laden soil, but an acidic content that further leaches the nutrients from the matrix. When flooded with spring snow melt or heavy rainfall, bog plants are inundated with fresh water almost devoid of nutrients. Where will they get the carbon and nitrogen they need to grow?
But rather than the true carnivory (using digestive enzymes secreted by the plant) exhibited by some pitcher, sundew, or venus flytrap plants, Purple Pitchers contain a complex ecosystem within their tubular trumpets that release the nitrogen and carbon they require. In turn they provide their aquatic inhabitants with the oxygen they need to sustain their own metabolism.
Here’s how it works:
The consumers (protozoans and fly larvae) and decomposers (bacteria) all produce carbon dioxide and excrete ammonia through their metabolism of the decomposing carcasses or each other. The plant is more than happy to take up these waste products directly through its leaves, lowering their potentially toxic concentration in the water. Photosynthetic pigments in the leaves produce the necessary components to fix that carbon dioxide into plant sugars, and release oxygen (as a byproduct of photosynthesis) directly into the water for the aerobic metabolism of its consumer population. It’s a sustainable system!
Added to the unique features of this plant in sustaining its own micro-ecosystem, and its strange floral anatomy that prevents self-pollination, are the myriad adaptations for tolerating fluctuating water levels in a bog over the course of the year, and surviving the frozen state during a long winter. What an amazing plant!