Plants that bite back

Lots of plant species are coming back to life on the Forest; one that I’m particularly excited to see is the Round-leaved sundew. This is a carnivorous plant – it catches and digests insects using the sticky glandular hairs on its leaves. This is an adaptation to the poor soils of places like Ashdown Forest; the sundew obtains nitrogen and other nutrients from the bodies of its prey.

If you look closely, the leaf at the top of the photo has caught a fly

If you look closely, the leaf at the top of the photo has caught a fly

The Round-leaved sundew is uncommon but widespread in the UK; it is very much associated with Sphagnum moss and peat bogs, an increasingly scarce habitat. It does have a particular Ashdown Forest link, though. One of the earliest books on plants that catch and digest insects was written by Charles Darwin. Prior to his research, there was a lot of debate about whether or not the capture of insects was deliberate, and if the plant actually derived any nutritional benefit from the process. In The Insectivorous Plants, published in 1875, Darwin showed conclusively that the carnivorous habit was a deliberate mechanism to supplement the plant’s diet. And the sundews he used in his studies, in his greenhouse at Down House in Kent, were collected from Ashdown Forest.

I hope he had permission!

The kind of nutrient-poor peaty pool favoured by sundews

The kind of nutrient-poor peaty pool favoured by sundews

Steve Alton

Conservation Officer