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Flora Fact

Deadly and Dainty

Carnivorous sundews trap insects in a sticky situation. 


When it comes to big appetites in tiny plants, the sundew is a real omnivore. Growing in depleted soil, the carnivorous Drosera gets supplemental nourishment from trapping insects in its sticky and shiny leaves.

“Insects are a really abundant resource, and the plant has figured out how to use that resource,” says Andrew Bennett, biologist at the Big Thicket National Preserve in Southeast Texas.

Found in the boggy marshes of the Big Thicket region, the sundew plant captures prey to obtain nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients often missing from the soil where it grows.

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Its leaves, with little dew-like droplets, glisten in the sun, luring small insects with secretions that look and smell like nectar. As soon as an unsuspecting victim gets stuck, the sundew rolls up a sticky strip around its catch, slowly enclosing the insect in an array of tentacles. In a matter of minutes, the plant begins dissolving its meal with digestive enzymes and acids, absorbing nutrients through a series of glands. This process can last four to six days.

As horrific as it sounds, this plant is no “little shop of horrors.” On the contrary, the fact that sundews and other carnivorous plants get an extra boost of energy by eating insects along with getting energy from photosynthesis makes them unique.

The Big Thicket contains four out of the five types of carnivorous plants found in North America. Out of 90 species of sundew, three species are found in the Big Thicket. One of the three species likes disturbed soil where cars have driven, and the other two like pine savanna habitat, Bennett says.

All three are small, low-growing plants with reddish rosettes.

“One is an annual plant, lasting for one year, so it’ll usually sprout in the fall and winter, and then it’ll bloom in the spring, and by summer when things dry out, it’ll already have gone to seed and died. The other two species are perennial,” he says.

Sundews can be seen on the Big Thicket National Preserve’s mile-long Sundew Trail, and along the preserve’s roadside ditches near Kountze.

“You really only see them in specific locations, and that’s why it’s important to protect them, because they don’t just grow anywhere,” Bennett says.

 Laura Adams;  Judy Darby | Dreamstime.com

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