Where to buy sundew plant?

New to carnivorous plants? Start here!

  • Install your own Reverse Osmosis system: These can be quite an investment, but for large collections will quickly pay for themselves. Most units are designed for installation under your sink, but compact units intended for aquariums are also available.
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    10. Where on the web can I learn more about carnivorous plants?

    Right here!

    If you’re enjoying this guide, you can subscribe to Tom’s Carnivores via email – you’ll receive a notification whenever I publish a new article on my blog:

    I usually write once or twice a month, and you can unsubscribe with one click at any time. Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party.

    Other Blogs

    *I’m currently reworking my blog roll – if you run a carnivorous plant website and would like to be included, please drop me a line via email!


    There is a thriving carnivorous plant scene on Instagram. It’s obviously geared around photos rather than discussion, but many growers share stunning pictures of their collections and setups, making it well worth joining. Check out the carnivorous plant growers I follow to get started.

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    Nepenthes robcantleyi at Kew Gardens #carnivorousplant #nepenthes #robcantleyi #kewgardens #kew #carnivorousplants #carnivore #monkeycup #pitcherplant

    A post shared by Tom’s Carnivores (@tomscarnivores) on May 29, 2017 at 9:02am PDT

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    Growing Sundews – Tips On How To Care For a Sundew Plant

    Sundews (Drosera spp.) are carnivorous plants with an ingenious way to catch their prey. Carnivorous sundew plants have sticky pads that trap insects. The plants are also attractive, often brightly colored rosettes. Growing sundews is common in terrariums or other warm, moist areas that mimic their natural bog habitat. A few tips on how to care for a sundew will have you on your way to enjoying this fascinating plant.

    Sundew Plant Information

    There are over 90 species of sundew. The majority are found in Australia and South Africa, but they also grow in hot, humid areas of Georgia, Florida and other similar climates. The plants prefer acidic soils and are usually where there is a bog or marsh and often grow on top of sphagnum moss. Sundews are in the genera Drosera and common varieties are often seen in houseplant stores.

    Sundew plant information wouldn’t be complete without explaining the trap mechanism. The plant has tiny arms or stems covered at the tips with sticky filaments. These filaments secrete a substance that will not only catch small prey but will also digest them. The arms fold in to hold the insect for four to six days until it is completely digested.

    Growing Sundews

    Whether you grow them indoors or out, carnivorous sundew plants are excellent for controlling gnats and other tiny insects. Sundew plants thrive as potted plants in a mixture of sphagnum moss and vermiculite or perlite. The pot must be kept constantly moist and an atmosphere of humidity is best for maximum growth.

    Carnivorous sundew plants need warm temperatures and moist conditions. Outdoor plants do well when planted near a water feature or even in soggy soil. When growing sundews outdoors, till soil completely and mix in sphagnum moss to increase the acidity. Full sun situations suit the plant best, but you can also grow them in dappled light.

    How to Care for a Sundew

    Potted plants do not need fertilizer but do require either distilled or rainwater, as they are not tolerant of high levels of minerals.

    Provide a humidity level of 40 to 60 percent. This is easy to do by setting a saucer filled with small pebbles under the plant and filling it with water. The evaporation will help moisten the ambient air.

    Cut off spent stems and leaves as they occur. Transplant them when they outgrow their pots.

    There are some varieties of Drosera that are more hardy than others. Check with your extension office for plant recommendations for your area. Follow the instructions on how to care for a sundew and grow a fascinating and useful plant in the garden.


    Sundew, (genus Drosera), any of the approximately 152 carnivorous plant species of the genus Drosera (family Droseraceae). Sundews are widely distributed in tropical and temperate regions, especially in Australia, and are common in bogs and fens with sandy acidic soil. Predominantly perennials, the plants feature small, nodding, five-petaled white or pinkish flowers that are borne on one side of a curving stem some 10 to 25 cm (4 to 10 inches) above the basal leaves. The leaves are usually arranged in a rosette and are less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter. The upper surface is covered with flexible, gland-tipped trichomes (plant hairs) that exude a sticky substance to attract and entrap insects and other small prey. Trapped prey are engulfed in a web of the sticky glands, colloquially known as tentacles, and digested by enzymes. Following digestion, the leaf unfurls to reset the trap. Carnivory does not provide sundews with energy but rather supplies nutrients, particularly nitrogen, in poor soil conditions.

    • Cape sundewCape sundew (Drosera capensis). The plant uses a sticky mucilage to trap and digest insects.AdstockRF
    • An active trap of the sundew (Drosera capensis). Sensitive tentacles topped with red mucilage-secreting glands fold over to secure and digest the struggling insect.© Thomas C. Boyden

    The most common North American and west European sundew, the roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), has small white or pinkish flowers 1.25 cm (0.5 inch) across or less and bears round, flat leaves with purplish hairs on a long fuzzy stalk. The Cape sundew (D. capensis) features long, narrow leaves with red-tipped glands and is commonly sold as a novelty plant. Two species (D. katangensis and D. insolita) native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    roundleaf sundewSticky gland-tipped hairs of the roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), which attract and digest insects.© Maslov Dmitry/Fotolia

    Cold-Hardy Sundew Care

    Where to Grow

    Cold hardy sundews grow best outdoors as a container or potted plant on a sunny deck or patio. You may also grow them in a pond or fountain, but keep the crown of the plants above water. Because of their specific soil requirements, avoid planting them directly into the ground.


    During the growing season, grow cold-hardy sundews outside in partial to full sun. Provide 4 or more hours of direct sunlight for vigorous growth.
    As D. filiformis and Venus flytraps have the same growing requirements,
    they can grow together in the same pot.

    Heat Tolerance

    Most cold hardy sundews, such as Drosera filiformis, Drosera intermedia, and Drosera trayci, tolerate the summer heat well. They originate from an area where temperatures above 90°F (32°C) commonly occur in summer. Other sundews, such as Drosera rotundifolia, prefer mild temperatures.


    Sundews require mineral-free water. If your tap water is relatively pure (less than 50 parts per million in dissolved minerals), then you can safely water your sundews with it. Otherwise, use bottled distilled water. Keep the soil wet at all times. You can do this by setting the plant in small amounts of standing water, no more than halfway up the pot.


    Use a soil mixture of 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Never use potting soil, compost or fertilizer; these ingredients will kill your plant.

    Winter Care

    Cold hardy sundews require 3-4 months of winter dormancy triggered by cold temperatures (below 50°F or 10°C) and shorter daylight hours. As your plants enter dormancy, they will drop their leaves and stop growing altogether. While dormant, your plant can withstand overnight frosts down to 20°F (-7°C). As long as temperatures rise above freezing during the day, you don’t need to protect your plants. However, even while dormant, your plant will still need to sit in a small amount of standing water to prevent its soil from drying out.
    If you live in zones 7 and 8, protect your plants prior to the onset of an Arctic front, so pay attention to weather alerts. Shelter your plants from freezing wind by covering them with a tarp or bringing them into an unheated enclosure. Resume normal outdoor care when the Arctic front passes.
    If you live in zones 6 or colder, areas where the temperature routinely drops below freezing for more than a week at a time, you will need to mulch your container plants for the winter. Maintain soil moisture whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Uncover your plants in early spring.

    2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Plants

    Drosera spatulata Kansai
    Scientific classification
    Kingdom: Plantae
    Division: Magnoliophyta
    Class: Magnoliopsida
    Order: Caryophyllales
    Family: Droseraceae
    Genus: Drosera

    See separate list.

    The Sundews (Drosera) comprise one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants, with over 170 species. These members of the family Droseraceae lure, capture, and digest insects using stalked mucilaginous glands covering their leaf surface. The insects are used to supplement the poor mineral nutrition that sundews are able to obtain from the soil they grow in. Various species, which vary greatly in size and form, can be found growing natively on every continent except Antarctica.

    Both the botanical name (from the Greek δρόσος: “drosos” = “dew, dewdrops”) as well as the English common name (sundew) refer to the glistening drops of mucilage at the tip of each tentacle that resemble drops of morning dew.

    Plant characteristics

    Sundews are perennial (or rarely annual) herbacious (non-woody) plants, forming prostrate or upright rosettes between 1 centimeter (0.4 in.) and 1 meter (39 in.) in height, depending on the species. Climbing species form scrambling stems which can reach much longer lengths, up to 3 meters (10 ft.) in the case of D. erythrogyna. Sundews have been shown to be able to achieve a lifespan of 50 years. The genus is so specialized for nutrient uptake through its carnivory that in at least the case of pygmy sundews it is missing the enzymes ( nitrate reductase in particular ) that plants usually use for the uptake of earth-bound nitrates.


    The genus can be divided into several growth forms:

    • Temperate Sundews: These species form a tight cluster of unfurled leaves called a hibernaculum in a winter dormancy period (= Hemicryptophyte). All of the North American and European species belong to this group.Drosera arcturi from the mountains of New Zealand is another temperate species that dies back to thick, wiry roots.
    • Subtropical Sundews: These species maintain vegetative growth year-round under uniform or nearly uniform climatic conditions.

    A tuber of D. zonaria, a tuberous sundew, beginning its winter growth

    • Pygmy Sundews: A group of roughly 40 Australian species, they are distinguished by miniature growth, the formation of gemmae for asexual reproduction, and dense formation of hairs in the crown centre. These hairs serve to protect the plants from Australia’s intense summer sun. Pygmy sundews form the section Bryastrum.
    • Tuberous Sundews: More than 40 Australian species that form an underground corm in order to survive the extremely dry summers of their habitat, re-emerging in the fall. These so-called tuberous sundews can be further divided into two groups, those that form rosettes and those that form climbing or scrambling stems. Tuberous sundews comprise the subgenus Ergaleium.

    D. derbyensis, from the petiolaris complex

    • Petiolaris Complex: A group of tropical Australian species which live in constantly warm but irregularly wet conditions. Several of the 14 species that comprise this group have developed special strategies to cope with the alternately drier conditions. Many species, for example, have petioles densely covered in trichomes, which maintain a sufficiently humid environment and serve as an increased condensation surface for morning dew. The petiolaris complex sundews comprise the section Lasiocephala.

    Although they do not form a single strictly defined growthform, a number of species are often put together in a further group:

    • Queensland Sundews: A small group of three species ( D. schizandra, D. prolifera, and D. adelae), all native to highly humid habitats in the dim understories of the Australian rainforest.

    Leaves and carnivory

    Leaf and tentacle movement on D. capensis

    Sundews are characterised by the glandular tentacles, topped with sticky secretions, that cover their laminae. The trapping and digestion mechanism usually employs two types of glands: stalked glands that secrete sweet mucilage to attract and ensnare insects and enzymes to digest them, and sessile glands that absorb the resulting nutrient soup (the latter glands are missing in some species, such as D. erythrorhiza). Small prey, mainly consisting of insects, are attracted by the sweet secretions of the peduncular glands. Upon touching these, however, they become entrapped by sticky mucilage which prevents their progress or escape. Eventually, the prey either succumb to death through exhaustion or through asphyxiation as the mucilage envelops them and clogs their spiracles. Death usually occurs within one quarter of an hour. The plant meanwhile secretes esterase, peroxidase, phosphatase and protease enzymes. These enzymes both dissolve the insect and free the contained nutrients. The nutrient soup is then absorbed through the leaf surface and can then be used to help fuel plant growth.

    Drosera spathulata with a captured fly

    All species of sundew are able to move their tentacles in response to contact with digestible prey. The tentacles are extremely sensitive and will bend toward the centre of the leaf in order to bring the insect into contact with as many stalked glands as possible. According to Charles Darwin, the contact of the legs of a small gnat with a single tentacle is enough to induce this response. This response to touch is known as thigmotropism, and is quite rapid in some species. The outer tentacles (recently coined as “snap-tentacles”) of D. burmannii and D. sessilifolia can bend inwards toward prey in a matter of seconds after contact, while D. glanduligera is known to bend these tentacles in toward prey in mere tenths of a second! In addition to tentacle movement, some species are able to bend their laminas to various degrees in order to maximize contact with the prey. Of these, D. capensis exhibits what is probably the most dramatic movement, curling its leaf completely around prey in 12-72 hours. Some species, such as D. filiformis, are unable to bend their leaves in response to prey.

    The leaf morphology of the species within the genus is extremely varied, ranging from the sessile ovate leaves of D. erythrorhiza to the bipinnately divided acicular leaves of D. binata.

    Flowers and fruit

    Flower of D. kenneallyi

    The flowers of sundews, as with nearly all carnivorous plants, are held far above the leaves by a long stem in order to avoid trapping potential pollinators. The mostly unforked inflorescences are spikes, whose flowers open one at a time and usually only remain open for a short period. Flowers open in response to light intensity (often opening only in direct sunlight), and the entire inflorescence is also helitropic, moving in response to the sun’s position in the sky.

    The radially symmetrical ( actinomorphic) flowers are always perfect and have five parts (the exceptions to this rule are the four-petaled D. pygmaea and the eight to twelve-petaled D. heterophylla). Most of the species have small flowers (<1.5 cm. or 0.6 in.). A few species, however, such as D. regia and D. cistiflora, have flowers 4 centimeters (1.5 in.) or more in diameter. In general, the flowers are white or pink. Australian species display a wider range of colors, including orange ( D. callistos), red ( D. adelae), yellow ( D. zigzagia) or metallic violet colored ( D. microphylla).

    The ovary is superior and develops into a dehiscent seed capsule bearing numerous tiny seeds.


    The root system of most Drosera is only weakly developed. It serves mainly to absorb water to and anchor the plant to the ground; the roots are relatively useless when it comes to nutrient uptake. A few South African species use their roots for water and food storage. Some species have wiry root systems that remain during frosts if the stem dies. Some species such as Drosera adelae and Drosera hamiltonii use their roots for asexual propagation, by sprouting plantlets along thier length. Some Australian species form underground corms for this purpose, which also serve to allow the plants to survive dry summers. The roots of pygmy sundews are often extremely long in proportion to their size, with a 1 centimeter (0.4 in.) plant extending roots over 15 centimeters (6 in.) beneath the soil surface. Some pygmy sundews, such as D. lasiantha and D. scorpiodes, also form adventitious roots as supports.


    Many species of sundews are self-fertile and flowers will often self-pollinate upon closing. Often copious amounts of seeds are produced. The tiny black seeds germinate in response to moisture and light, while seeds of temperate species also require cold, damp, stratification in order to germinate. Seeds of the tuberous species require a hot, dry summer period followed by a cool, moist winter to germinate.

    Vegetative reproduction occurs naturally in some species that produce stolons or when roots come close to the surface of the soil. Older leaves that touch the ground may sprout plantlets. Pygmy sundews reproduce asexually using specialized scale-like leaves called gemmae. Tuberous sundews can produce offsets from their corms.

    In culture, sundews can often be propagated through leaf, crown, or root cuttings, as well as through seeds.


    Distribution of the genus Drosera

    The range of the sundew genus stretches from Alaska in the north to New Zealand in the south. The centers of diversity are Australia (with roughly 50% of all known species), South America (20+ species) and southern Africa (20+ species). A few species are also found in large parts of Eurasia and North America. These areas, however, can be considered to form the outskirts of the generic range, as the ranges of sundews do not typically approach temperated or arctic areas. Unlike previously supposed, the evolutionary speciation of this genus is no longer thought to have occurred with break-up of Gondwana through continental drift. Rather, speciation is now thought to have occurred as a result of a subsequent wide dispersal of its range. The origins of the genus are thought to have been in Africa or Australia.

    Drosera filiormis filiformis in a peat bog in New Jersey

    Europe is home to only three species: D. intermedia, D. anglica, and D. rotundifolia. Where the ranges of the two latter species overlap, they sometimes hybridize to form the sterile D. × obovata. In addition to the three species and the hybrid native to Europe, North America is also home to four additional species; D. brevifolia is a small annual native to coastal states from Texas to Virginia, while D. capillaris, a slightly larger plant with a similar range, is also found in areas of the Caribbean. A third species, D. linearis, is native to the northern United States and southern Canada. D. filiformis has two subspecies native to the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Florida panhandle.

    This genus is often descriped as cosmopolitan, meaning that it has worldwide distribution. The botanist Ludwig Diels, author of the only Monograph of the family to date, called this description an “arrant misjudgment of this genus’ highly unusual distributional circumstances” („arge Verkennung ihrer höchst eigentümlichen Verbreitungsverhältnisse“), while admitting that sundew species do “occupy a significant part of the Earth’s surface” („einen beträchtlichen Teil der Erdoberfläche besetzt“). He particularly pointed to the absence of Drosera species from almost all arid climate zones, countless rainforests, the American Pacific Coast, Polynesia, the Mediterranean, and North Africa, as well as the scarcity of species diversity in temperate zones such as Europe and North America.


    Round-leaf sundew ( D. rotundifolia) growing in sphagnum moss along with sedges and Equisetum in Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

    Sundews generally grow in seasonally moist or more rarely constantly wet habitats with acidic soils and high levels of sunlight. Common habitats include bogs, fens, swamps, marshes, the tepuis of Venezuela, the wallums of coastal Australia, the Fynbos of South Africa, and moist streambanks. Many species grow in association with sphagnum moss, which absorbs much of the soil’s nutrient supply and also acidifies the soil, making nutrients less available to plant life. This allows sundews, which don’t rely on soil-bound nutrients, to flourish where more dominating vegetation would usually outcompete them.

    That being said, the genus is very variable in terms of habitat. Individual sundew species have adapted to a wide variety of environments, including atypical habitats such as rainforests, deserts (ex. D. burmannii and D. indica), and even highly shaded environments (Queensland Sundews). The temperate species, which form hibernacula in the winter, are an example of such adaptation to habitats; in general, sundews tend to prefer warm climates, and are only moderately frost-resistant.

    Conservation status

    Although none of the Drosera species in the United States are federally protected, all are listed as threatened or endangered in some states. Additionally, many of the remaining native populations lie on protected land such as National Parks or Wildlife Preserves. Drosera species are protected by law in many European countries, such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech republic, Finland, Hungary, France, and Bulgaria. Currently, the largest threat in Europe and North America is that of habitat destruction for development projects, as well as the draining of bogs for agricultural uses and peat harvesting. In many regions this has led to the extinction of some species from parts of their former range. Re-introduction of plants into such habitats is usually difficult or impossible, as the ecological needs of certain population is closely tied to their geographical location. Through increased legal protection of bogs and moors as well as a concentrated effort to renaturalize such habitats, the threat to these plant’s survival might be curbed, although most species would remain endangered. The relatively unimpressive image of these plant as well as their small, low growth makes them difficult to protect. As part of the landscape, sundews are often overlooked or not recognized at all.

    In South Africa and Australia, two of the three centers of special diversity, the natural habitats of these plants are undergoing a high degree of pressure from human activities. Expanding population centers (such as Queensland, Perth, and Cape Town) threaten many such habitats, as does the draining of moist areas for agriculture and forestry in rural areas. The droughts that have been sweeping Australia over the last ten years, which likely are a result of global warming, also pose a threat to many species by drying up previously moist areas.

    Those species that are endemic to a very limited area are often most threatened by the collection of plants from the wild. D. madagascariensis is considered endangered in Madagascar because of the largescale removal of plants from the wild for exportation; 10 – 200 million plants are harvested for commercial medicinal use annually.


    Possibly the oldest illustration of a sundew from the mysterious Voynich manuscript

    As a medicinal plant

    Several medicinally active compounds are found in sundews, including flavinoids ( kaempferol, myricetin, quercetin and hyperoside), quinones (plumbagin, hydroplumbagin glucoside and rossoliside (7–methyl–hydrojuglone–4–glucoside)), and other constituents such as carotenoids, plant acids (e.g. butyric acid, citric acid, formic acid, gallic acid, malic acid, propionic acid), resin, tannins and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

    Sundews were used as medicinal herbs as early as the 12th century, when an Italian doctor from the School of Salerno by the name of Matthaeus Platearius described the plant as an herbal remedy for coughs under the name “herba sole”. It has been used commonly in cough preparations in Germany and elswhere in Europe. Sundew tea was especially recommended by herbalists for dry coughs, bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma and “bronchial cramps”. A modern study has shown that Drosera does exhibit antitussive properties. Sundews have also been used as an aphrodisiac and to strengthen the heart, as well as to treat sunburn and prevent freckles. They are still used today in some 200-300 registered medications, usually in combination with other active ingredients. Today Drosera is usually used to treat ailments such as asthma, coughs, lung infections, and stomach ulcers.

    Medicinal preparations are primarily made using the roots, flowers, and fruit-like capsules. Since all native sundews species are protected in many parts of Europe and North America, extracts are usually prepared using cultivated fast-growing sundews (specifically D. rotundifolia, D. intermedia, D. anglica, D. ramentacea and D. madagascariensis) or from plants collected and imported from Madagascar, Spain, France, Finland and the Baltics.

    As ornamental plants

    Because of their carnivorous nature and the beauty of their glistening traps, sundews have become favorite ornamental plants. The environmental needs of most species are relatively stringent and can be difficult to maintain. As a result, most species are unavailable commercially. A few of the hardiest varieties, however, have made their way into the mainstream nursery business and can often be found for sale next to Venus fly traps. These most often include D. capensis, D. aliciae, and D. spatulata.

    The more difficult species of sundews are also cultivated by a group of several thousand carnivorous plant enthusiasts world wide; virtually every species can be found in cultivation. Since many sundew species are only found in small numbers in a very limited range in the wild, several species have been threatened by aggressive collection of plant material for cultivation.

    Cultivation requirements vary greatly by species. In general, however, sundews require a high environmental moisture content, usually in the form of a constantly moist or wet soil substrate. Most species also require this water to be pure, as nutrients, salts, or minerals in their soil can stunt or kill them. Commonly plants are grown in a soil substrate containing some combination of dead or live sphagnum moss, sphagnum peat moss, sand, and/or perlite, and are watered with distilled, RO, or rain water.

    Other uses

    The corms of the tuberous sundews native to Australia are considered a delicacy by the Australian Aborigines. Some of these corms were also used to dye textiles, while another purple or yellow die was traditionally prepared in the Scottish Highlands using D. rotundifolia. A sundew liqueur is also still produced using a recipe that has its roots in the 14th century. It is made using fresh leaves from mainly D. capensis, D. spatulata, and D. rotundifolia.


    The following cladogram shows the relationship between various subgenera and classes as defined by the Rivadavia et al.’s analysis in 2002. The monotypic section “Meristocaules” was not included in the study, so that its place in this system is unclear. More recent studies have placed this group near section “Bryastrum”, so it is placed there below. Since the section “Drosera” is polyphyletic, it shows up multiple times in the cladogram (*).

    This phylogenetic study has made the need for a revision of the genus even clearer.

    Section Drosera*

    Section Ptycnostigma

    Section Drosera*

    Section Thelocalyx

    Subgenus Ergaleium

    Subgenus Phycopsis

    Section Bryastrum

    Section Lasiocephala

    Section Coelophylla

    Section Drosera: Drosera arcturi*

    Section Regiae



    Retrieved from ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundew”

    The sundew plant is aptly named. Each leaf is covered with tiny hairlike-tentacles, on the tip of which is a drop of what looks like morning dew. In the sun, these droplets glisten and gleam, but they also conceal a carefully laid trap.

    What appears to be dew is actually a sticky adhesive, and any insect that alights on a sundew leaf will promptly find itself stuck. As it struggles to escape, the plant’s tentacles and leaves curl around the insect, before the carnivorous plant slowly digests its prey.

    But now, the sundew may have a role to play in rebuilding bodies as well as dismantling them. Research, carried out by Mingjun Zhang, a biomedical engineer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has shown the plant’s sticky adhesive may be suitable for a variety of cutting-edge medical procedures, including tissue engineering and chronic wound healing.

    The emerging field of tissue engineering represents a new approach for replacing or repairing damaged body parts. The idea is to deliver a teeming mass of healthy, say, nerve, bone, or muscle cells to the site of a nerve, bone, or muscle injury, and hope the new cells integrate themselves into the body as healthy, functional tissue.

    But doctors can’t just inject a solution of cells into the body and expect new tissue to grow. Cells do best when they have a surface to adhere to – a “scaffold” to which they can anchor themselves as they proliferate and differentiate. So in tissue engineering procedures, cells are applied to one of these scaffolds—which come in a variety of materials and forms, including sponges, meshes, films, and gels. Then the whole construct is implanted or injected into the body. As the cells begin to multiply, the scaffold provides a literal support structure, facilitating cell growth and communication. Eventually, the biodegradable scaffold disintegrates into the body, leaving behind a sheet of brand new tissue.

    ‘Goldilocks effect’

    Scaffolds need to meet many criteria, and engineers have spent a lot of time looking for just the right material. “This has been a major challenge,” says Zhang, whose lab specializes in bio-inspired engineering. As he scoured the natural world for a substance that might make a good cell scaffold, he began to think that the gluey, gelatinous substance secreted by sundews might fit the bill.

    The material is natural and biodegradable, composed of a combination of sugars and acids. It is, of course, sticky, which means it should be able to tightly grip cells. And it’s highly elastic, which is crucial for tissue engineering; a scaffold has to be flexible enough to bend and stretch and shift as cells proliferate and tissues grow.

    The more closely Zhang examined the sundew adhesive, the more suitable it seemed. For a study he published in 2010, he coated a silicon wafer with the sundew adhesive and let the material dry for 24 hours. Then he stuck the wafer under a microscope. What he saw thrilled him – the dried adhesive was composed of a complex network of nanofibers, linked and crosslinked to form a porous scaffold. What’s more, he discovered that the holes in the scaffold were a Goldilocks-like “just right” – neither too large nor too small, but the perfect size for cell attachment. From a tissue engineering perspective, Zhang says, the structure left behind by the dried adhesive had “a beautiful morphology”.

    Then it was time for an even bigger test. Zhang smeared the sundew material onto glass slides and seeded the adhesive with living cells derived from the brains of rats. Twenty-four hours later, he returned to the slides. The cells had attached; an average of 1250 cells had colonized each square millimeter of the adhesive. Around 98% of the cells were viable, and they were stuck on securely – they stayed put even when Zhang tried to rinse them off. In a 2011 paper, Zhang showed that neurons attached to the sundew adhesive were capable of dividing and differentiating and that bone and skin cells also successfully adhere to the material.

    The findings have convinced Zhang that the sundew adhesive is a good starting point for a variety of tissue engineering applications. He thinks engineers could modify and process the material into an implantable or injectable scaffold. Alternately, Zhang imagines brushing a mixture of liquid sundew adhesive and skin or stem cells onto the surface of a chronic, open wound. The sundew material would serve as a scaffold as the cells grew into a new, healthy layer of skin.

    The sundew adhesive may also have a role to play in routine medical implant procedures, Zhang says. For instance, it could be brushed onto the surface of an artificial knee or hip, fostering a secure attachment between the implant and the living tissues surrounding it. Down the line, we may find that the best way to put human bodies back together is to borrow from a predatory plant. “Nature does beautiful things,” Zhang says. “We should definitely learn from that.”

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