by Wildlife Guide Sally Hennessy
The You Yangs is a granite mountain range to the west of Melbourne. The sclerophyll forest surrounding the rocky ridges is home to an array of native Australian animals and a diverse range of trees and smaller native herbs and shrubs. All of the species are equally important and beautiful, but the Australian plant I find most intriguing is the Sun Dew.
What makes this plant unique is that it eats insects!
As a Wildlife Guide I am lucky to lead tours in the forest, spending my time looking for kangaroos, koalas, birds and reptiles. Another perk of the job as a tour guide in Australia is experiencing all of the amazing plants that make up and support this diverse ecosystem.
The Pale Sundew (Drosera peltata) is most common species in the area. It is an upright perennial with a tubular root. This species is distinguishable by a rosette of leaves around it’s base and a long stalk that is covered with more leaves. All of the foliage is coated in sticky mucus.
Carnivorous sundews have sticky droplets of moisture on their tentacle-like fronds. Small insects are attracted to the sweet smell of the secretions and upon touching the substance they are unable to escape.
Once an insect is trapped the plant will fold its leaves to encapsulate their prey. This ensures the catch is in contact with the maximum enzyme-producing glands. These enzymes work to break down the insect so the sundew can absorb the nutrients.
Sundews are often found in areas of poor soil condition. The insects that are consumed provide essential nutrients, especially nitrogen that helps the plant survive. Following digestion the leaves unfurl to reset the trap.
The Pale Sundew flowers between August and December in Australia. The white flowers form in a cluster at the top of the stalk and open one at a time. This native herb has evolved to live in tough drought conditions. If stressed the tuberous fleshy root can become dormant underground until the environmental conditions improve. This is an important function as the granite soil of the You Yangs retains little moisture.
While on our Koalas and Kangaroos at Sunset tour in Australia, keep your eyes on the ground to find Sundew plants on the forest floor. They are a magical sight, especially in the afternoon sunlight!