Sundews range from the penny-sized pygmy species to the "giant" (Drosera dichotoma) that can reach 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter. The five-petalled flowers are large relative to the size of the plant. They typically are white to pink, but some groups have orange, red, yellow or violet blooms. Most flowers are flat with rounded petals, but the profusely blooming lance-leafed Drosera adelae has star-like red flowers with contrasting white stamens encircling a yellow pistil. In most species, the flowers bloom sequentially on pendant columns, beginning with the flower at the base of the column and moving toward the tip. Depending on the plant, stalks reach lengths of a few inches to 1 to 2 feet (30 to 61 centimeters) [source: D'Amato]. Many self-pollinate, but a few need cross pollination.
As lovely as the flowers are, the true interest of the plant lies in the leaves. These are covered in "hairs" tipped with a gland that secrets sticky goo. Most hairs are red, but on some sundews they are transparent with a red gland at the tip. The goo looks like dew glistening in the sun and lures insects in for a drink. In 1578, English botanist Henry Lyte observed that the plant seemed to grow dewier as the sun grew hotter.
When insects land on the sundew, they get stuck in goo, a circumstance that prompts them to thrash about in an effort to get free. The movements bring the bug into contact with more sticky-tipped glands, until it's effectively cemented to the plant. The hair-like tentacles then close around the insect and begin to digest it.
Sundews are native to North American bogs, but the highly adaptable 130,000 species thrive or at least survive on nearly every continent [source: D'Amato]. They can be found wherever there are wet, low-nutrient soils, whether that's in the seasonal, semi-frozen bogs of Siberia or the extreme southern regions of New Zealand and South America.
If you can see a sundew adding interest to your future, here are some tips to keep it thriving. If you plant Drosera in your garden, chose species whose native habitat is similar to what they'll experience in the environment you provide. If you live in warm-temperate, subtropical or Mediterranean climates, you'll have the widest variety of sundews to choose from.
Some species, such as the cape sundews, rosetted sub-tropical natives, and giants like Drosera regia and D. multifida, are amenable to life on a windowsill. Provide them with cool, humid conditions and morning sunlight. Chose small species for terrariums. These little creatures need to be placed within inches of a fluorescent bulb to achieve their maximum potential. And don't forget to feed them.