“That this perennial wildflower digests trapped insects suggests that other plants’ appetites for animals may be overlooked.” A. Elbein, The New York Times, Aug. 9, 2021
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: This Flower Hides a Secret: It’s Actually a Carnivore, By Asher Elbein, The New York Times, Aug. 9, 2021
“This wildflower looks innocent. Found in wetlands not far from major cities in the Pacific Northwest, it lures in pollinators with white blossoms atop a long, sticky stem. You can even buy seeds of the Western false asphodel in garden stores.
But according to new research published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, botanists have overlooked a distinguishing feature of the perennial: It is the world’s newest and most unexpected carnivorous plant.
There are 13 known families of carnivorous plants, from insect-eating sundews and Venus flytraps to pitcher plants large enough to drown and devour a mouse. Most live in sunny, moist habitats where vital nutrients are in short supply — peat bogs, acidic fens, jungle canopies — and have to get their nourishment from living prey. ‘Carnivorous plants usually have a strong signal that they’re carnivores,’ said Qianshi Lin, a botanist at the University of British Columbia and an author on the study.During the summer flowering season, Western false asphodels produce leafless flowering stems up to 31 inches tall, which are covered in sticky hairs. While herbarium specimens often have small flies or beetles stuck to those hairs, it was generally believed that the hairs were part of the plant’s defense strategy, killing insects that might attack the leaves and flowers, Dr. Lin said.
The first clue that the plant had an appetite for insects came when T. Gregory Ross, also at the University of British Columbia, noticed markers in the plant’s genetics sometimes associated with carnivorous plants. That was enough for Dr. Lin and his colleagues to take another look…Western false asphodels may be a new example of how certain plants adapt previously existing structures toward carnivory. Plants like the sticky purple geranium and tomato also have adhesive hairs on their surfaces, which are generally considered to function as a defense.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- This wildflower looks innocent.
- It’s found in wetlands not far from major cities in the Pacific Northwest.
- It lures in pollinators with white blossoms atop a long, sticky stem.
- But according to new research botanists have overlooked a distinguishing feature of the perennial.
- There are 13 known families of carnivorous plants.
- There are the insect-eating sundews and Venus flytraps to pitcher plants large enough to drown and devour a mouse.
- This plant has long been ignored, because they don’t have any uses.
- The perennial wildflower lives in environments similar to other carnivorous plants.
- Its digestion of insects was not observed until recently.
- Some carnivorous plants appear innocuous.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- This perennial wildflower digests trapped insects.
- There is 13 known families of carnivorous plants.
- Carnivorous plants usually have a strong signal that they’re carnivores.
- Most carnivorous plants live in sunny, moist habitats.
- Carnivorous plants show that nutrients travel from animals to the plant.
- This particular wildflower looked innocence.
- The Western false asphodel was indeed digesting prey.
- Other plants have similar adhesive hairs that they’re use for defense and not digestion.
- Carnivorous plants intentionally lure prey toward specialized leaf traps.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
The first___ that the ___had an ___for ___came when T. Gregory Ross, also___ the University of British Columbia, noticed___ in the plant’s ___sometimes ___with ___plants. That was enough for Dr. Lin and his___to take another look.
WORD LIST: colleagues, carnivorous, associated, genetics, at, markers, appetite, clue, plant, insects,
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Have you ever seen a carnivorous plant? If so where? Have you ever owned one? What did you observe about the plant?
- What kind of signals do plants have that show they are carnivorous?
- Who discovered that this particular plant was carnivorous?
- What is needed to prove that a plant is carnivorous?
- What do researchers think that the plant is doing what with the excess insect nutrients?
- Why does Dr. Fleischmann think the false asphodel may not be a carnivorous plant?
- List three new ideas that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Share your responses with your class.