How to Grow Sundew Plants

Close up of plant with red tinged filaments on round green heads
Sundew plants come in many shapes and sizes: their leaves may be round, oval, or long and slender.

Steve Balcombe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

Despite its rather gentle sounding name, the sundew, also known as Drosera capensis, is a carnivorous plant. It belongs to one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants, with over 90 separate species. These species feature many sub-species as well and they have descriptive names like King Sundews, Temperate Sundews, Rosetted Sundews, etc.

Their green leaves come in a variety of shapes depending on the species, including narrow, oval, or round. The plants can also vary in size according to species, though most of the ones commercially available are fairly small.

The leaves are covered with glands with tiny stalks (sometimes referred to as "tentacles") that secrete mucus which captures insects by luring them with scent. The insects are then trapped in the sticky surface of the leaves where they are digested. The leaf curls up to digest its prey and then unfurls to rest the trap again. This process takes between four and six days.

While some may find this rather bloodthirsty behavior for a plant, like the Venus flytrap, others find them fascinating and an educational example of the diversity of the plant world. They're also rather useful in that they eat gnats, which can be an annoyance in summer.

The sundew is a tropical plant found mainly in Australia and South Africa and grows mainly in bogs and fens with acidic, sandy soil.

The plant, whether large or small, forms a rosette of leaves and also develops small white or pale pink flowers. It's quite attractive and the delicate stalks on the leaves reflect light.

Scientific Name Drosera capensis
Common Name Sundew, Cape Sundew
Plant Type Tropical perennial
Mature Size 8 to 10 inches
Sun Exposure Partial to full sun
Soil Type Moist, acidic, boggy, sandy
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White to pale pink
Hardiness Zones USDA 9 and above
Native Areas Australia
Toxicity Non-toxic
Extreme close up of sundew plant with red tipped filaments visible.
A close up shot of the sundew displays the filaments tipped with a secretion that lures and traps insects.  Mark Griffin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sundew Plant Care

The sundew plant can be grown in pots indoors or outdoors. With the right conditions of heat and humidity to imitate a tropical environment, it can sometimes even be grown in your backyard soil.

They're native to tropical climates in Australia and South Africa, but they can be grown outdoors in hot humid areas of the United States such as south Florida and parts of Georgia and Louisiana.

Planting them near a water feature mimics their native settings and provides humidity. You may also choose to grow them in containers as an annual, or inside glass terrariums, which help maintain the humid, warm environment that exists in their native regions.

Sundew plants will sometimes grow on top of sphagnum moss, a type of moss often found in commercial peat moss. The plants usually have to be obtained via special order from vendors that specialize in exotic indoor plants.

Light

Sundew plants do best in full sun. If growing indoors, a sunny window is a good location. The plants will also thrive fairly well with indirect sunlight or partial sun, as long as they get at least several hours of sunlight per day.

Soil

If growing in pots, use a mix of vermiculite and/or perlite and peat moss, with a bit of composted potting soil added in too. This soil mixture will hold moisture well and provide the acidity preferred by sundew plants.

If you have soggy soil in your yard and plenty of warm temperatures in the growing season, you may be able to successfully grow them in your yard. Till the soil well before planting and add plenty of sphagnum peat moss to increase acidity.

Water

Frequent watering of your sundews planted in containers will help keep the soil moist. But use distilled water or collected rainwater, as many potted plants with special soil needs, like the sundew, will not tolerate a high level of minerals which may be found in tap water or spring water.

Temperature and Humidity

True to their name, these plants like a warm, moist and humid environment. Make sure they are not exposed outside to temperatures below 50 degrees, and if temperatures are below 70 degrees for more than a few days, you may want to bring them indoors.

You can create a humid environment in containers by watering frequently and doing some misting of the plants' leaves. Placing a shallow dish of water with small pebbles nearby helps keep the air humid as well.

In a terrarium setting, you won't have to check the humidity levels quite as often since the closed environment holds moisture in.