An insect-eating plant has been re-discovered in Wisconsin

The plant is also native to Minnesota.
Publish date:
An English sundew

An English sundew

After 40 years, a rare insect-eating plant has been re-discovered in the northern Wisconsin county of Ashland, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The plant is called the English sundew (Drosera anglica) and it was discovered by Don and Judy Evans last year when they were kayaking in Ashland County, the Wisconsin DNR said in its Rare Plant Monitoring Program Annual Report, which was recently released. The identity of the plant was confirmed by Dr. Sarah Johnson of Northland College in Ashland. 

The Wisconsin DNR says this is the second extant population of the state-threatened plant. An English sundew is one of 15 carnivorous plant species in Wisconsin, and they're also found in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Forest Service. (BMTN has reached out to the Minnesota DNR for information on the prevalence of English sundews in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.)

According to the Wisconsin DNR, English sundews are typically found in fens and bogs. The harsh environments in which they live have forced the plant to find other ways to get nutrients – through "eating" insects. 

The plant has long tentacles with red-colored glands that secrete a sweet nectar, which attracts insects. When an insect lands on the plant's leaves, they stick. Then, the plant's glands bend toward the insect with the entire leaf curling around the bug, kind of like a boa constrictor, the Wisconsin DNR says. 

The insect eventually dies from exhaustion or asphyxiation, the Wisconsin DNR says. The plant's gland secretions are corrosive and help break down the insect so the sundew can digest its nutrients by absorbing it through the leaf surface, fueling the plant.

English sundew in Minnesota 

The English sundew was pretty unknown in Minnesota until 1978, the Minnesota DNR says. That's when botanists explored a peatland habitat in northern Minnesota and found the insect-eating plant. 

Now, there's a "relatively stable" population of the plant due to the fact Minnesota has several large, intact patterned peatlands in northeastern Minnesota, where the species is found, Erika Rowe, a plant ecologist-biologist with the Minnesota DNR told BMTN. 

That's unlike Wisconsin, which has smaller and/or isolated peatlands that are typically "just not the right habitat."

Rowe says Minnesota has about 60-plus populations or so of the English sundew but notes it is still considered a rare species and is listed as State Special Concern here because it is much less common than round leaved sundew or spatulate (intermediate) leaved sundew.

"We still turn up new populations of D. anglica on occasion when our ecologists are out exploring new areas of peatlands as there are still some areas we have not accessed due to inaccessibility," Rowe noted. 

Next Up