Looking like fireworks but not the plant's flower, the gel-tipped hairs on the leaves of sundews (Drosera spp.) glisten in the sunlight as if coated in morning dew. The sticky hairs trap insect prey, permitting the plants to "digest" them for nutrition. Sundews are truly nature's "sticky flypaper."
Although references differ, there are between 100 and 180 different species of sundew plants in the world, native to all continents except Antarctica in moist, peat and sand soils that are low in nutrition. The greatest number of species occur in Australia. Sundews grow in bogs or moist sandy banks in bright sunlight.
While scores of species exist, four in particular are more frequently encountered in gardens or specialty displays because of their ornamental beauty. Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) from southern Africa, love nest sundew (Drosera intermedia) from Eurasia and the mid-Americas, round-leaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) from around the Arctic Circle, and the slender-leaf sundew (Drosera linearis) from North America's Great Lakes region are four species of particular note.
There is huge diversity in form among the sundews. Some remain evergreen while others die back to tuberous roots over the winter months. Those from Arctic regions often overwinter in tightly compressed buds called hypernacula according to The International Carnivorous Plant Society. Sundew plants may take the shape of a basal cluster or leaves called a rosette or be scrambling, vine-line, or upright. The common bond among the sundew species is that their leaves are covered and fringed in tiny hairs or "tentacles" that are red or green. A sticky gel oozes from the hairs to capture insects. The small buttercup-like flowers are five-petaled and most often colored either white, pink or purple.
Overall the response of the hairy leaves to consume the captured insect is slow, although some species snap roll their leaves up to instantaneously trap the bug. Once the insect first becomes trapped by the sticky gel in the hairs, the edges of the leaf belong to roll inward, eventually entombing the critter. Digestive enzymes are increasingly produced over a week's time and hasten the deterioration of the insect, allowing nutrient absorption directly through the leaf tissue.
Each sundew species calls for different temperature, water, or soil requirements that mimic their natural habitats. Although there is no one exact formula for successfully growing all species of sundews, some general requirements and considerations can be discussed. If grown in containers as a cool-room houseplant, grow sundews in a 1:1 ratio of peat to sand in a pot sitting in a shallow saucer of acidic soft water to keep the soil consistently moist. Give it bright light with shade only from the hottest, most intense sunlight in the afternoon hours. Outdoors, sundews assimilate to wet, sandy soils rich in peat that are acidic in pH (less than 7.0) and nutritionally poor. Grow them in full sun exposures, receiving over 6 to 8 hours of sun rays daily. Insects killed by the hairs provide the trace nutrients for sustenance.