The Brazilian plant Philcoxia minensis feasts on nematode worms — making this spindly plant the first known to trap its prey using sticky leaves buried underground.

Credit: R. S. OLIVEIRA

Philcoxia (pictured) grows in the white, nutrient-poor sands of the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiversity hot spot. Rafael Oliveira at the State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil, and his colleagues found dead nematodes trapped on P. minensis's subterranean leaves. The team fed the plants nematodes containing labelled nitrogen. After two days, about 15% of the prey's labelled nitrogen was found in the leaves.

This, as well as the presence of enzymes called phosphatases on the leaves, suggests that the plant actively digests its prey.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2012)