Sundews

Sundews
Nigel Symington

By Charlotte Owen 

WildCall Officer 

We have some fantastic wildlife here in Sussex but sometimes the south of England can seem very tame.  Our large predators are long gone, there are no bears or wolves prowling our woodlands, no giant reptiles sliding into garden swimming pools, no scorpions sneaking into our discarded shoes – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s reassuring to be reminded occasionally of the raw power of nature, red in tooth and claw, and one of the most fascinating examples to be found on our doorstep is provided - surprisingly - by the plant kingdom. 

Of the planet’s 400,000 (ish) species of plant, a mere handful are carnivorous.  You may immediately conjure up visions of an oversized Venus flytrap or giant pitcher plants in steaming tropical jungles but in reality, most carnivorous plants are small and slow-growing.  They typically thrive in wet but sunny habitats and here, the best place to see them is on heathland, where a closer look around the boggier areas will reveal the glistening stems of the sundew.  They are just a few centimetres tall but brightly coloured and weirdly alien in appearance. The round, green leaves are fringed with crimson tentacles, each tipped with a deadly drop of dew.  This watery substance is in fact a sticky glue laced with sugars to lure and trap its insect prey.  Once a meal has been snared, the tentacles close around it so that the plant’s digestive enzymes can get to work.  The process may take minutes or up to a couple of days and provides essential nutrients that are otherwise lacking in the soil of the sundew’s wet and boggy home, allowing it to thrive where other plants may struggle to survive.

The Round-leaved Sundew is the most commonly encountered species, although it is still a rarity.  From June to August it puts on an extra-spectacular show by sending up tall, red flower stems that tower above the tiny leaves.  Each stem bears a string of green buds, like fat little sausages, which open into a spray of dainty white flowers as this crimson carnivore briefly shows its softer side.

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