Plant of the Month — May 2009

Drosera erythrorhiza Lindl. — Red Ink Sundew

Find out more about Drosera erythrorhiza Lindl.

May brings to mind Mother’s Day and white flowers. A small, beautiful, pure white flower very suitable for the occasion is Drosera erythrorhiza. This flat, rosetted, tuberous, perennial herb, 0.05–0.12 metres high, is very familiar and enjoyed by those who live in the South West of Western Australia. It can be found blooming from April to June, its flowers contrasting with the red leaves of its basal rosette from which it takes its common name.

It is a member of the Droseraceae or Sundew family, one of 85 species (in 4 genera) of carnivorous annual and perennial herbs with leaves that are covered in sessile or stalked glands that secrete digestive enzymes. Insects are trapped either by sticky hairs or rapid leaf movements. Drosera erythrorhiza enjoys a variety of soils including yellow-grey sand, red-brown sandy loam, laterite, granite and can be found on Coastal plains, swamp margins and ridges from Carnarvon in the north to the Esperance plains in the south.

Both elements of the name come from the Greek: droseros meaning dewy, referring to the prominent glandular hairs that give the plant the appearance of being covered with dew; and erythros, red, plus rhiza, root. The leaves have been used by farmers for dying purposes and would presumably have been used as such by Aboriginal peoples of the region.

This species was first described by English botanist, John Lindley (1799–1865), who was assistant librarian to Banks; Assistant Secretary to the Royal Horticultural Society (1822); first Professor of Botany at the University of London (1829–1860) and later Professor of Botany at Cambridge University. It was on his Report to Treasury and Parliament that the Royal Garden at Kew was saved from destruction in 1838. One of Britain’s foremost botanists, his particular connections with Australia included his descriptions of the plants of Mitchell’s expeditions (1838) and an Appendix to the Botanical Register (1839) describing plants (mainly those of Drummond and Molloy) of the Swan River Colony, Western Australia.

Photo: A. Ireland

Find out more about Drosera erythrorhiza Lindl.

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