Catopsis berteroniana (Bromeliaceae)

Powdery-strap air plant, lantern of the forest (Bromeliad family)

Origin: Southern Florida to Brazil

Our featured plant is an epiphytic bromeliad that is purported to be carnivorous.  Catopsis berteroniana grows high up in the trees, often times in bare trees in full sun, with little opportunity to catch the falling leaves or other detritus that many bromeliads use for nutrition. When bromeliad tanks are actually dissected and studied, we have found over and over that Catopsis contains many times more non-aquatic insects than the average bromeliad. This fact, combined with the chalky powder which coats the underside of the leaves and the plant’s habit of living so high and exposed in the canopy, have led to the popular theory that this is an actively insectivorous plant.

Lots of carnivorous plants contain a chalky powder. It causes loss of traction, making the insects slip and fall back in the tanks, and it also reflects ultraviolet light, in effect rendering the plant invisible to insects. The theory is that the insect thinks it sees a straight shot up to the sky with nothing in the way, and then collides with the leaf, falling back into the tank. Catopsis berteroniana has adapted to the high light of the open canopy, and because of this it usually appears more yellow than green. The chalk amplifies this effect.  They can be quite striking when the sun is hitting them right, causing them to “glow” (hence their Spanish common name, lampara de la selva, or “lantern of the forest”) in the trees.

And, for Floridians, yet another beautiful reason to go exploring in our own backyards. This is a plant that  you can find in the Everglades, and you don’t even have to leave the air-conditioned comfort of your family car. There, you can find Catopsis growing in scraggly, bare trees, buttonwoods and mangroves, right on the side of the highway in the National Park. Or you can come out to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, where we have one on display in our Tropical Conservatory. Check it out!


Text by David Troxell