Research assistants with the Darwin Correspondence Project joined the teaching team for a new Freshman Seminar at Harvard College called “Getting to Know Darwin.” The class was composed of first year undergraduates and was taught by Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University and Professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Here is a link to a feature about the course.
To learn about Darwin’s work on carnivorous plants, the class observed a variety of carnivorous plants: sundews, venus fly traps, utricularia, and pitcher plants. Each plant employs its own mechanism to trap its prey, and the students enjoyed seeing, firsthand, how these mechanisms work.
To get a closer look at the carnivorous plants the students used microscopes to examine them. The students particularly enjoyed learning more about how utricularia capture their prey. After examining utricularia, the students were better able to appreciate the awe of utricularia expressed by Mary Treat in an 1874 letter to Charles Darwin:
“I have been studying the bladder-bearing species of Utricularia off and on the last year, and am now fully satisfied that they are the most wonderful carnivorous plants that I have yet seen.”
If you don’t have access to utricularia or microscopes, this video provides a good alternative.