Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Sundews are some of the most fascinating plants to be found in the New Forest, for they are insectivorous. They are found in nutrient-poor wet soils and the sticky scarlet hairs that cover the leaves are a perfect trap for small insects. This prey provides the nutrients that the plant is missing. Sundews grow about 1 cm tall and bloom in the summer months, displaying a spike of white flowers.
Two other species of sundew are present in the forest: the oblong-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia) and the larger and comparatively rare great sundew (Drosera anglica).
Each sundew leaf is covered with hair-like tendrils which are tipped by droplets that glisten like dew in the sun, giving these plants their common name. On contact, insects quickly become ensnared and the surrounding hairs bend towards the victim to prevent escape. Eventually the whole leaf curls over to enclose its prey. The dew drops act as digestive juices that dissolve the softer parts of the insect’s body before the resultant liquid is absorbed by the plant.
The sundew has a long history of herbal use: when distilled with wine it was said to have aphrodisiac and strengthening powers, giving rise to its alternative name — youthwort. It was also used in the treatment of whooping cough, bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory complaints.