Kentucky botanists identify first population of carnivorous plant in Bluegrass State
Botanists with the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves identified a variety of carnivorous plant last week that had never been documented as native to the Bluegrass State.
The Round-leaved Sundew, or Drosera rotundifolia, is a small, insect-eating plant with leaf blades covered in reddish, glandular hairs tipped with a sticky, glutinous secretion capable of trapping and digesting its prey. It can be found throughout the eastern United States and Canada in bogs or environments with mossy crevices or damp sand.
An OKNP social media post announced that botanists Devin Rodgers and Toby Shaya had discovered the first known population of the plant in a remote gorge in the Cumberland Plateau.
Rodgers – an OKNP environmental scientist – said he was excited to discover the population of around 300 specimens in an outcropping of bedrock shelving in McCreary County.
“I've been in other situations where occasionally those bedrock shelves have wet spots that can harbor different species of sundews, and so anytime I'm in an environment like that, and I see a small little microsite habitat that has some seeping cliffs or seeping outcrops, I always go look,” he said. “I've been doing that for six years here in Kentucky. This is the first time that it actually ended up having [one].”
The discovery makes Kentucky the home of five different species of carnivorous plant – including two other species of Sundew and two species of Bladderwort. With only a small population of Round-leaved Sundews in Kentucky known, the plant variety is now classified as endangered on the state level.
Rodgers described the plant as having a more passive approach to their carnivorous ways compared to the behavior of other carnivorous plants like the Venus fly trap, though they consume similar prey – including flys, beetles and ants.
“It's not actually hunting anything, but it's just sitting there waiting for an insect to land on it,” the botanist said. “These leaves are so small – the pad at the end that has the glands [that produce the sticky, enzyme-filled secretion] is maybe maybe five to seven millimeters wide.”
Rodgers said that this sole Kentucky population is “far removed” from others in neighboring states, but he believes that the reason for that is range contraction – meaning that there was formerly a larger population spread out over the region.
“Possibly there were more populations at one time that have since dwindled, or that we simply just don't know about them,” the environmental scientist said. “These disjunct by geographic patterns are what makes botanical knowledge and learning about our native flora so fascinating. We really don't know at this time, but we can only wonder why.”
More information about Kentucky’s rare and unique plant and animal life can be found on the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves website.