5 Sticky Facts About Carnivorous Sundew Plants

Sundew plants on muskeg. Jaymi Heimbuch

1. Sundews are a carnivorous plant, and despite their tiny size they are a formidable foe for insects on every continent except Antarctica! There at least 194 species of sundew, or Drosera, and they can be found from Alaska all the way to New Zealand. Wherever you are in the world (as long as you're on land), there's a good chance there's a species of sundew living not too far away.

2. Sundews can be found living in moist habitat with soil that is acidic and nutrient-poor. In fact, living in soil that lacks nutrients is the very reason they trap insects as food. You can find sundews in places like bogs, muskegs, and swampy areas that are moist but not too wet. However some sundew species are even found in desert environments. The sundew species pictured here, the round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), lives in the muskeg of southeast Alaska.

3. Thigmonasty. Seriously, it's a thig. I mean, thing. And sundews experience it. Thigmonasty is the response of a plant to touch or vibration. According to The Carnivore Girl:

When sundews feel prey getting caught in their sticky dew, their thigmonasty is to wrap around the prey, until it dies from exhaustion or asphyxiation. The response is faster in some species than others. Cape sundews look very dramatic and full of flair, but they take up to 30 minutes to completely engulf their prey. Drosera glanduligera and drosera burmannii have “snap tentacles” which will wrap around their food within seconds!

4. How does a soft plant eat a meal with an exoskeleton? Enzymes. The viscous secretion on the hairs of sundews traps insects, and the leaves curl inward to place the prey in contact with smaller, inner hairs that secrete enzymes. The enzymes are an external digestion process, breaking down the organs of the insect so nutrients can be absorbed by glands in the plant. When only the exoskeleton remains, the leaf uncurls and readies itself to catch another meal.

5. Sundews are so highly adapted to gaining nutrients from insect prey that some species aren't even able to gather nutrients through a root system at all. Instead, the roots simply keep them, well, rooted to the ground, or are simply a place to gather or store water.