Fearsome flora

Sundew © Mark Hamblin 2020VISION

You might have heard of the Venus fly-trap, but did you know that there are thirteen species of plants native to the UK and Ireland that eat animals?

Usually plants draw up nutrients from the soil using their roots. They use what they absorb, along with carbon dioxide, water and light, as sustenance. However, some plants can’t get enough nourishment from their habitat, so instead they’ve evolved to eat animals – these are our carnivorous plants!  

They usually attract their prey by smelling sweet, offering nectar, or by looking attractive to insects. Some sticky plants may even capture animals as they simply bumble by, like a fly getting caught in a spider’s web. Once the plant's prey has landed it is quickly trapped, and the plant ‘eats’ it, absorbing precious nutrients.

Here are two species of fearsome flora that you may find locally.  

Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia

Sundews are as beautiful as their name suggests, easily identifiable by their spoon-like shape and bright pink tentacles. At the tip of each tentacle is a sticky, deadly droplet that glistens in the sun like a jewel. When an insect lands on the droplet it is instantly stuck, and the sundew’s tentacles close in on their target, releasing enzymes and acids that digest the helpless victim.  

Sundews grow at Ancells Farm Nature Reserve in Fleet, and your best chance of seeing them is between July and September. Take care if you visit, as this reserve is sensitive to disturbance.

Bladderworts, Utricularia minor

Don’t be taken in by the sweet yellow flowers and dainty appearance of the bladderwort – this plant can trap an insect in one ten thousandth of a second. Bladderworts are aquatic plants, characterised by the hollow, underwater traps that they use to capture and digest tiny insects such as worms and water fleas.  Each trap has a flexible door surrounded by sensitive bristles that, once disturbed, open the trap door and suck the prey inside with a quick influx of water.  

If you’re hoping to see a bladderwort, they have been recorded in and around the New Forest. Look carefully when walking around boggy habitats and you might be lucky enough to spot one.