Sundew
Drosera

Introduction

The Sundews, or Drosera, are the most beautiful of the carnivorous plants. When I first started to collect carnivorous plants, I got a Venus Fly Trap, a Purple Pitcher Plant, and a Sundew. The Sundew quickly became my favorite! I started with my one Drosera adelae, but I now have 9 different kinds, which is pretty good for a small collection like mine.

Sticky Sundew!
Click on the play button to view the movie.

Sundews are an interesting type of carnivorous plant in that they can be found growing all over the world! Sundews have been reported in arctic areas, deserts, tropical areas, temperate areas, and even a species that have been reported to grow between sidewalk cracks during rainy seasons in hot, dry areas!

The Sundew was probably the earliest described carnivorous plant being described in an herbal publication by Henry Lyte in 1578. It was certainly a curious plant, being poked and prodded at by many people over the years, including Darwin's grandfather who thought that the sticky dew was to protect the plant. It was not until Darwin's work when the Sundew was shown to be carnivorous. Before and after that time, the Sundew has been described in many herbals under a name Youthwort where it was used to help restore the user to youth. A more modern herbal describes Sundew as being used for breathing problems, coughs, and upset stomach. It is also believed to have an antibiotic property (which Darwin demonstrated), as well as being used for warts! I would not be inclined to use my Sundews for those purposes, I just think they are interesting plants.

Sundews were a favorite plant of Charles Darwin, and the bulk of his book, Insectivorous Plants was about the Sundew. He performed a series of experiments proving the carnivorous nature of the plants as well as detailing some of the prey-capturing mechanisms of these plants. The Sundew is covered with a series of short hairs, referred to as Tentacles, that each contain a ball of sticky liquid. When an insect touches this liquid, it tries to get out by squirming, but that only makes matters worse, since the little hairs start moving together in order to stick more of the liquid to the bug. In some cases, such as D. capensis, the entire leaf will wrap around the insect. Once the bug is caught, the hairs start to make acids and enzymes to break down the bugs. The remaining juice drips onto the leaf where it is absorbed into the plant for food.

The Sundews are so varied even in appearance that to do a full detail would take many pages. In short, the leaf organization can be Rosetted, Lance Leaf, Branched, or Climbing. Sundews can also be crossed very easily producing hybrids, which always increases popularity of these plants to the collectors.

Geography

The location of Sundews around the world is very widespread, so more details to each plants location will be included below in the details of each class of plants.

Sundew Classes

There are several classes of Sundews. I will not be considering all of them here, but some of the most common ones. Check the Links page for more details.

Cape Sundews

The Cape Sundew refers to the specific species, D. capensis. These Sundews are some of the easiest to grow and they spawn more baby Sundews than I know what to do with! What is more, one flower stalk will produce so many seeds that I did not removed them from my terrarium fast enough and little Cape Sundews started growing in most of my plants!

The Cape Sundew gets it's name from the region that it grows in: the southern tip of Africa, which is more commonly known as the Cape of South Africa. In cultivation, four cultivars are known: Wide, Narrow, White, and Red. The Wide and Narrow look similar except that the leaf portion containing the dew is narrow in the Narrow form. The Red Cape Sundew is red all over in bright light. The White Cape Sundew has white hairs while the other forms all have deep red hairs. Therefore, the White form has a ghostly appearance.

The Cape Sundew is also one of the most exciting since the whole dew containing portion of the leaf will wrap around the poor insect that gets caught. This movement can take as little as 15 minutes.

Three Sisters of Queensland

Another of the most common Sundews is the D. adelae, which I commonly refer to as the Adelae Sundew. This is one of the three Sundews that naturally grow in Queensland, Australia. The other two of these are D. schizandra and D. prolifera. All of these are common in cultivation because they don't mind dimmer lights. I have most experience with the Adelae Sundew, which is what I will be expanding on here.

The Adelae Sundew is a lance-leaf plant with two forms: one is green in color and the other is reddish. It is commonly thought that the light conditions will cause this change in color, however, all of mine have been in the same lighting and growing conditions and some of my plants are reddish and others are green. On examination, it is not the leaf color that is changing in this, but rather, the quantity and size tentacles holding the dew droplets.

The Adelae Sundew grows and produces more plants by sending out long roots that wrap around the pot and periodically shoot up a new young plant. It is also common for the main plant to die in order to spawn many more plants that will quickly take it's place.

Rosetted Sundews

The rosetted Sundews can be Tropical, Subtropical, or even Temperate. These Sundews grow low to the ground with leaves growing in a basal pattern, which means in a circle, all coming from one place in the center. The most common Sundew in this group is D. aliciae, which also grows in the Southern Cape of Africa. In addition to this, many other rosetted Sundews are in this class.

Another common rosetted Sundew is D. spatulata which has a much wider range from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, this Sundew has varieties like the Cape Sundew that can even indicate where it comes from. This particular rosetted Sundew has leaves that start out thin, but get spoon or 'spatula' looking ends where the tentacles and dew are found.

Temperate Sundews

The temperate Sundews will require a dormancy period, since they grow in colder climates. One such Sundew is the D. intermedia, which grows in the United States, even up to central Pennsylvania where I am located. The Temperate Sundews differ in leaf structure and size. In the wintertime, these Sundews develop winter buds resembling little artichokes. The technical word for these buds is hibernacula.

D. intermedia is a small Sundew with thin stalks topped with tentacles. It can grow up north into Canada, or it can be a Tropical plant as far south as Cuba! What is more, depending on which area it came from, it will have along dormancy (6 months), a short (3 months), or even no dormancy! Another Temperate Sundew is D. filiformis, which almost resembles thin grass, except it is fully covered with dew! In addition to these Sundews, there are also temperate hybrids.

Pygmy Sundews

As the word Pygmy suggests, these Sundews are extremely small. I have a large one that produces flowers when full grown...about the size of a quarter! They can resemble Sundews that grow in rosettes, on stems, or any other type of Sundew. The difference is the small size. Most of these come from Australia when a the hot, dry summers actually cause the plants to go into dormancy. The most interesting fact about these little Sundews is that they can produce rapid colonies by forming small plants called gemmae, which produce an entire colony of genetically identical plants!

I have only one of these Sundews, and I don't yet know what it is. I acquired it because it tagged along with another plant that I bought. Once I repotted it, it grew to the whopping size of 1 inch and produced a little flower stalk. The flowers did not open, since they rarely flower well in cultivation, but it will produce a colony eventually if I force it to make gemmae by reducing the amount of light they get.

There are even more types of Sundews, but that will suffice to give you an idea as to how large this field is!

Growing Specifics

The Sundews are very easy to grow overall. It is always a good idea to know from where your plant came from so you know what kind of dormancy to give them. Sundews, in general, do very well in sphagnum moss with sand and vermiculite and watered with the Tray Watering Method. My plants that do not require dormancy are growing inside a small terrarium planted directly in three inches of soil. The result is a tank that is full of all sorts of Sundews climbing all over each other! I have more Sundews in the large terrarium.

One problem that you might have with Sundews is that they grow faster than weeds in a garden! From my very first Sundew, I have split out several plants It is so bad now that I have over three dozen Cape Sundews because I can't bare to throw them away!

In addition to this, the Cape Sundews produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, some of which have seeded most of my other plants, so there are little Sundews growing up all over the place. This makes Sundews a great starter plant...they are not easily killed!

Photogallery

Click on the photos to see larger images.

Drosera adelae


A lance leaf Sundew from Queensland, Australia.

Three Cape Sundews


Drosera capensis: Cape Sundew. The first is the white variety, the other two are the narrow variety.

Flowering Sundew


Drosera intermedia: A Sundew which can be found widespread in North America. The opening white flower stalks.

Drosera intermedia


Drosera intermedia: An uncommon Sundew which is widespread in North America.

More Flower Stalks


Drosera capensis alba: The White Cape Sundew flower stalk. This can get over 2 feet tall when fully grown!

Wide Cape Sundew


This is the typical form of the Cape Sundew from the southern cape of Africa.

Drosera adelae


Overhead view of this Sundew. This plant is growing in a small fishbowl on a sunny window.

Drosera filiformis


This is a North American Sundew with leaves raising straight up like tall sticky grass.

A Feast!


This Cape Sundew has found a spider and is wrapping around it. Not all Sundews wrap around, but this one is fast, taking about 15-30 minutes to wrap around it's prey.

Closeup on Leaves


A closeup on the leaves of the typical Cape Sundew.

Drosera binata


This is an uncommon Austrialian Sundew. The leaves are 'Y' shaped.
This photo is provided by Colorado Carnivorous Plant Society.

Drosera mulifida 'Extrema'


This is one of the most beautiful Sundews as it produces a large web of sticky goo! The color will be a deep red if it gets full sun.
This photo is provided by Colorado Carnivorous Plant Society.

Drosera spathulata


This is a common and widespread Sundew.
This photo is provided by Colorado Carnivorous Plant Society.