Temperate Sundews

The Temperate Sundews: Drosera sp.

by Michael and Andreia Stiffler

General information

The Drosera are given the common name of sundews, as their glandular leaves glisten in the sun. There are approximately 135 sundews species in the world, with seven native to North America. Several species, namely D. rotundifolia, D. intermedia, and D. filiformis can be found growing wild in New England. Temperate sundews grow in climates which experience cold weather in winter, dying down to buds (called hibernacula). Most varieties of North American species are temperate sundews; the forked-leafed sundew D. binata is native to Australia, most varieties are temperate growing.

The surfaces of sundew leaves are covered in stalked glands, or tentacles. At the end of each tentacle is a small, typically reddish gland that produces a tiny drop of dew—a clear and sticky mucilaginous substance. Perhaps attracted by the red color of the glandular tips, or by mistaking the glistening droplets for nectar, an insect lands on a leaf and quickly becomes mired in the sticky dew. Digestion then begins as the stalked glands also produce digestive juices containing digestive enzymes and bacteria.

Species: D. rotundifolia, D. intermedia, D. filiformis ssp., D. anglica, D. linearis, D. capillaris, D. brevifolia, D. binata; hybrid species of North American sundews occur frequently in the wild.


Soil: A mix of one part peat to one part course sand is excellent. Most also do well in growing in live sphagnum or long-fibered sphagnum.

Containers: Plastic pots are recommended, however glazed ceramics will also work.

Watering: Use only chlorine free water with low mineral content such as distilled, reverse osmosis or rain water. Some public water supplies in New England are adequate—check with your water company or other NECPS members. Use the tray method keeping the soil damp to very wet.

Light: Full to mostly sunny. Temperate Drosera thrive outdoors in full sunlight.

Growing conditions: Do best outdoors in bog gardens, greenhouses, or in pots on sunny porches or simply on the lawn. Good for well-lighted terrariums and should be placed close to lights; mature D. filiformis ssp. and D. binata may get too large and unwieldy for many terrariums however. May do well on sunny windowsills.

Dormancy: All species require three to four months of winter dormancy.

Feeding: Outdoors they will feed themselves on small flies, ants, mosquitoes, etc. Indoor plants may feed on gnats and springtails if available in the environment, a great method is to release fruit flies into the terrarium (provided from a store bought or homemade culture). Hand feeding is difficult but can be accomplished using dried insects or small pieces of hard-boiled eggs or powdered milk.

Propagation: Propagation by seed is the easiest method. Flowers of all North American species (but also including some D. binata varieties) will self-pollinate upon closing and produce copious amounts of seed. Termperate sundew seeds require stratification. D. binata species are especially easy to propagate by root cuttings. Some can also be propagated by leaf cuttings.

References and for more information

1. D’Amato, Peter. 1998. The Savage Garden. Berkeley, California.: Ten Speed Press.

2. The Carnivorous Plant FAQ

3. Schnell, Donald E. 2002. Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada. Portland, Oregon.: Timber Press.