Weekly Features


New rent-a-plant program at IUPUC takes a bite out of pest problems

Oct. 26, 2016

Faculty and staff are all abuzz about a new rent-a-plant program at IUPUC that allows employees to borrow a carnivorous plant that eats gnats and fruit flies in their office space.

Barbara Hass Jacobus

Barbara Hass Jacobus,  biology program coordinator and lecturer in the Division of Science at IUPUC, holds a Cape Sundew plant. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUC

The rent-a-plant program started when Barbara Hass Jacobus, biology program coordinator and lecturer in the Division of Science, overheard a complaint about the insects in her building.

Jacobus loaned out a carnivorous plant native to the Cape of South Africa called Drosera capensis, or Cape sundew, that traps the insects in its sticky tentacles to supplement its nutrition. 

Once the sundew plants eliminated the pest problem in one office, word started to spread to other faculty and staff in the building.

“I began to receive more requests for carnivorous plants as pest control,” Jacobus said. “One staff member worded her request, ‘Can I rent a Venus flytrap?’ and that inspired me to send an email to all IUPUC faculty and staff initiating an official ‘rent-a-plant’ program that would simultaneously make everyone aware of the service and educate them about the plants.”

Lately, the Cape sundew has been catching prey all over IUPUC. When bugs get caught and struggle to free themselves from the sticky dew-like drops on the plant’s leaves, the sundew’s tentacles begin to move and curl inward to prevent escape.

The Cape sundew’s prey either suffocates when its breathing holes are covered with the sticky drops or die from exhaustion during the struggle to survive. Once prey is caught, the plant’s glands secrete digestive enzymes and acids that liquefy the soft parts of the insect. Then, the sundew is able to absorb the nutrients from the digested juices. 

Jacobus has four pots of sundew plants that are being rotated around the offices, but there are plans in the works to expand the collection since the rent-a-plant program has become so popular. 

“The response has been overwhelmingly grateful and positive from those who have rented the plants,” Jacobus said. “They have found the plants to be highly effective at eliminating the pesky insects buzzing around their offices and have enjoyed learning about these unique members of the plant kingdom.”

The fee for a faculty or staff member to rent one of the pest-eating plants is that they have to learn a fact or two about the plant’s biology and share what they’ve learned with fellow employees.

Jacobus hopes that getting faculty and staff talking about the plants will help IUPUC’s biology program, which doesn’t have a greenhouse. A campus greenhouse could increase plant numbers and varieties as well as offer better education about the species beyond the IUPUC community and helping the program better assist people on and off campus with starting their own carnivorous plant collections.

Besides getting rid of the pesky gnats and fruit flies, the rent-a-plant program has offered other benefits.

“The purpose of a university is, first and foremost, to educate,” Jacobus said. “The rent-a-plant program has allowed me to educate IUPUC faculty and staff about the biology of these unique plants and resulted in a greater appreciation of plants in general, most specifically the carnivorous plants and the unique challenges they face in their ecosystems and how they have evolved mechanisms to overcome those challenges.”

Jacobus also likes that renting out the sundews has helped improve the atmosphere and work environment for her colleagues.

“IUPUC is a small campus, and opportunities such as these for faculty and staff to communicate outside of our own divisions enhance teamwork and an appreciation for each of our roles on campus,” she said.

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