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Tiny triffids in the paddock

On several occasions over past few weeks South East Local Land Services staff have noted the presence of a tiny native plant species underfoot when visiting properties in the Yass district to discuss native vegetation values and clearing with land managers.

The species is a sundew. It lurks amongst the grass, silently devouring small insects that move through the damp corners of paddocks.  When land managers are made aware of sundews they are keen to learn more about the important role these plants play in a paddock.

The presence of sundews is an indication of habitat that supports diversity and some of our most vulnerable and sensitive species.

Sundews are a diverse group of carnivorous plants that live in nearly every continent on the planet. Fifty per cent of all known sundew species occur in Australia, and 10 or so species are native to New South Wales. One common species in the Yass area, Drosera hookeri, is only around an inch wide and looks much like a moss until inspected closer.

One endangered species, Aldrovanda vesiculosa or Waterwheel Plant, even lives in freshwater lagoons!  The best places to find more common sundews are seasonally wet areas and even in pasture where the soil has not been disturbed.

The real fascination with these plants is in the carnivorous nature of the leaves which are covered in tentacles that produce a dew-like droplet of sweet sticky digestive enzymes.  When an insect lands on the leaf it quickly becomes trapped in the ‘dew’ as it struggles to escape.  The leaf then folds over it, like a venus fly-trap, immobilising and suffocating the victim.  Then it slowly absorbs the nutrients.

This biological adaptation means they extract some of their nutrients, like nitrogen, directly from the bodies of digested insects. It is for this reason that they can live in nutrient-deficient soils.

Most sundews are herbaceous and perennial, meaning that the above-ground parts of the plant die down each year.  Later in the season you are likely to see the flowering stems, with white or pink flowers on top of the sticky stems.

So next time you are in the bottom paddock checking the fences, take a moment to inspect the drama unfolding at ground level – you might be surprised at the diversity right at your feet.

If you would like more information about natural values and biodiversity in your area, are considering clearing native vegetation on your property or would like assistance managing your native vegetation, please contact Laura Canackle at South East Local Land Services, Yass on 02 6118 7708 or email laura.canackle@lls.nsw.gov.au

ENDS

Media contact: Laura Canackle, 02 6118 7708