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Sundews, of the genus Drosera, are Britain's only native carnivorous plant - although it has to be said that apparently a number of smaller Sarracenias, or pitcher plants, have become naturalized in some of the peat bogs in Southern Ireland.
Growing in nutrient-poor substrates, such as sphagnum bogs, carnivorous plants in general cope with the lack of fertile growing conditions by catching, digesting and absorbing the nutrients from (mainly) flying insects. A number of insect-capturing mechanisms have evolved in the various families of carnivorous plant - many of these as 'passive' traps, as for example in the pitcher plants, where insects fall into water-filled 'vases' made out of modified leaves, and drown there. The other extreme being, of course the Venus Fly-trap, where modified leaflets are triggered to snap shut, closing around and imprisoning their insect prey. Sundews fall somewhere between these two extremes; while insects are ensnared by being stuck in highly sticky 'glue' secreted by the plant, once a prey item is caught, the leaves slowly close around their victim's body (over a period of hours), and then secrete digestive enzymes that begin to break down their catch.
While quite lovely viewed in close-up, it has to admitted that Sundews are not especially spectacular plants, as a specimen with a leaf-span reaching a three-inch diameter would be considered to be something of a giant. The pale green, spoon-shaped leaves grow in the form of a rosette, with dark red bristles all over the surface, each one secreting a bead of clear, glistening 'dew' - the sticky material with which the sundew traps its insect prey. Grown in the home, it's not generally necessary to 'feed' Sundews with insects; they tend to manage quite well without.
As these plants grow in bogs where they are rarely shaded by overhanging vegetation, sundews need a period in full sun each day. As bog plants, they also need to be kept moist - ideally with lime-free water, because these plants are adapted to grow in acidic conditions - at all times (this is easy enough to achieve by placing the sundew's pot in a saucer of e.g. distilled water). When purchased as indoor plants from e.g. garden centres, potted specimens generally cost between £3 to £5. Carnivorous plants in general tend to require specialist (and acidic) mixtures as regards their growing medium - recipes are easy to make up and can be found online - but sadly, I think it's fair to say that most commercially-purchased Sundews have such a short life-span that they never get to the stage where they need to be repotted.
These are interesting little plants, very attractive if you take the time to notice them properly, and being carnivorous are always popular with kids.
Nearly everyone knows what a Venus fly-trap is, but that normally is the limits of their knowledge on carnivorous plants. Little do they know that there is a whole world of plants that due to their habitats being harsh and nearly inhospitable have evolved so that they can acquire much needed nutrients from other sources, namely other insects. There are Venus fly-traps, Pitcher plants, Tropical pitcher plants, Bladderworts, butterworts, and last but not least, sundews. ~~Description~~ Sundews can be found all over the world, from the harsh dry climate of Australia, to our temperate rainy climate. Britain even has a few native species of Sundew, Drosera Rotundifolia, Drosera Anglica and Drosera Intermedia. Sundews are distinguishable by their hairs (or tentacles!) that cover the upper surfaces of their leaves. These hairs are normally tipped in a clear sticky substance that is a little like glue. An Insect would land on a leaf, thinking the globules of liquid to be some morning dew, and then become entangled in the hair and glue. The more the insect struggles, the more it coats itself in the glue. Some species of Sundew have tentacles that slowly move or bend towards the doomed insect, making its escape even more unlikely. Once the insect is covered in the glue, it is suffocated, and dies. Gradually the plants digestive enzymes (some are excreted through the leaves, other enzymes are found in the glue itself) break down the insect, and the vital nutrients are absorbed through the leaf. Once the plant has taken all it can from the insect, the wind blows the exoskeleton or shell of the insect away, leaving the trap ready for its next victim. When in captivity, there is no wind, and so the shells stay on the plant as a grizzly reminder of all insects’ fate should they land on these alluring leaves. ~~Cultivation~~ Sundews can quite easily be grown in Britain. Most species flourish if they are p
laced outdoor in the warmer months of summer, where they can catch their own prey. If they are placed outdoors, they need to be left somewhere where it is shaded nearly all day, or at least during the hotter midday sun. It is also important to make sure that they always have RAIN water left in their tray, so the soil stays damp. Quite a few species of Sundew, and especially the Australian species, go dormant during the winter, and they die back down to buds. If you have a species of Sundew that does dies down during the winter, simply reduce watering till the soil is barely damp, and leave them in a relatively dry location. Then when spring starts to warm up, gradually increase the waterings and hopefully the plant should grow back! If you wish to re-pot a Sundew, or replace their soil, it is important that certain soil is used. Sundews normally live in marshes where the soil is lacking in nutrients. Australian sundews normally have quite a large amount of sand in their mix. A good idea is to check the type of soil already in the pot, and mimic that for the amount of grit, sand and moss. The soil/compost used is normally Moss Peat, and I normally mix in about 2-3 Handfuls of shredded Sphagnum moss, 1 handful of sand, and half a handful of grit to every 4 or 5 handfuls of peat. It is vital that the plants receive rainwater, as tap water contains harmful chemicals that the pants cannot stand, such a trace metal elements and chlorine, which is used in the filtering process. ~~Feeding/Fertilising~~ (This is a little grizzly) You should never give a carnivorous plant fertiliser. The concentration of nutrients in fertiliser can be enough to scorch any leaves that it rests on, or even kill the plant. If you feel the plant needs some extra goodness, swatting a fly so that it is half killed or stunned and then placed it on a leaf will work just fine. Smaller plants can make do with smaller flies or insects like ants. Some people c
laim that bits of untreated meat like unsmoked bacon works, but I have never tried this and never will, as I feel a Sundew would never be able to catch and eat a pig, it won’t be able to digest the meat. ~~Other Comments~~ A good sign that the sundew is drying out is that the globules of glue on the hairs dry up. When this happens you need to make sure you water the plants as soon as possible to prevent any permanent damage happening. The plant should then regain its glue over a short period of time. The colour of sundews can vary, but to get them to go a deep red colour, they need plenty of mild sunlight. A shaded spot in the garden in summer will really bring out the colour in them. Also, did you know that Drosera an extract is an old Herbal remedy, its uses vary from place to place, but in my local health shop it is sold in a bottle for helping improve concentration! Sundews can be bought at most large garden centers that sell the Venus Fly-trap. Sundews are about the 3rd most common Carnivorous plant commercially available after the Venus Fly-trap and Pitcher plants! I hope this review/opinion helps with choosing a carnivorous plant, and if you choose it, gives a little information on how to look after it. If you find it useful please feel free to say so! I don’t review many plants!