top of page

Byblis: The Rainbow Plants

Australian natives (though one species ranges beyond the continent into Papua New Guinea), the Rainbow Plants are beautiful flytrap carnivores with a unique growth form, the entire plant covered in dense, variable length glandular tentacles (even the flower stalks and sepals!). Large, healthy plants often send out dozens of bright pink to violet flowers in a spectacular floral show. Leaves grow out in an inverse-circinate fashion unlike most plants (or the similar sundews), each coiled bud facing outward from the center of the plant as it unrolls like the tentacle of an octopus rather than unfurling from within the middle as seen best in ferns and their allies.

This genus derives its Latin name from the Greek myth of the niece of Apollo who fell in love with her twin brother; when he rejected her and fled, Byblis wept for so long she turned into an everlasting spring. The profusion of sticky drops that cover the plants are said to resemble her many tears, and the common name (though somewhat dangerous to use, as it is shared in part with several other plants and even some sundew species) comes from the way light refracts among the drops to form sparkling rainbows of colors.

Rainbow Plants are a fire-adapted genus, most growing as annuals in their seasonally dry habitats and the seeds requiring exposure to the chemicals produced in wildfires or multi-year stratification in order to germinate. Seeds may lie dormant for very long periods waiting for the right conditions, in cultivation some seeds even surviving without special storage for up to 20 years.

Carnivory in this genus has been at times disputed, but thus far in at least 4 species, possibly all, at least one or two enzymes have been evidenced as being produced by the plants themselves. All species are also often found playing host to assassin bugs of the genus Setocoris, which do not get trapped by the sticky glands but instead wander freely among them and dine on the captured insects before feeding the plants with excreted waste.

bottom of page