Rare meat-eating plant making a comeback

Conservationists have reintroduced the great sundew plant for the first time since they disappeared from Northern England, over 100 years ago.

Damselfly caught in the sticky fluid secreted by a sundew plant. © Chester Zoo

Great sundew plants Drosera anglica have declined throughout England due to chronic degradation of the peaty, saturated soils they require to survive.

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The North West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI) has successfully cultivated ten individual plants in the Risley Moss Nature Reserve, just outside Manchester.

Efforts to save this rare species have been supported by Chester Zoo and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

Having experienced a 62 per cent decline in occurrence since the 1930s, these carnivorous plants are now classified as endangered in England.

The desiccation of their naturally boggy habitat for agriculture has meant that other plants, which usually struggle to cope with such infertile conditions, are free to invade.

Sundew plant.
Sundew plant. © Chester Zoo

Fortunately, under the leadership of conservationist Joshua Styles, all this is about to change.

“If we were to do nothing, it is extremely likely that this carnivorous plant would become extinct in England in the very near future, and we’re not prepared to sit back and watch that happen,” says Styles.

It is hoped the young sundew plants will flourish in their new wetland home, using an ingenious technique to devour their prey.

Sundew leaves look like they are covered with morning dew, hence the name, but the droplets are actually a sticky, sweet-smelling liquid which attracts insects.

The insects land in the sticky liquid and are unable to escape. The tentacles of the plant roll up and trap the insects, drowning them in the liquid.

Insects caught by the sundew plant drown in the sticky liquid and are digested by enzymes.
Insects caught by the sundew plant drown in the sticky liquid and are digested by enzymes. © Chester Zoo

Sundews secrete digestive enzymes which break down the insect into a meal that can be absorbed.

This prehistoric species might seem exotic but is in fact native to the UK and can still be found across much of Northern Scotland and Western Ireland.

The Manchester Mosslands Species Reintroduction Project is working to return many other long-lost plant and insect species to Northern England, including the reintroduction of large heath butterflies.

Conservation efforts are vital for safeguarding the future of diverse ecosystems across the UK and everything that lives within them, including great sundew.

“The work that NWRPI, Chester Zoo and Lancashire Wildlife Trust are doing will, hopefully, guarantee the presence of this amazing, rare and endemic carnivorous plant in England for years to come,” adds Styles.


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Main image: Damselfly caught in the sticky fluid secreted by a sundew plant. © Chester Zoo