Fearsome Flora

©Ben Hall/2020VISION

You might have heard of the Venus fly-trap, but did you know there are thirteen species of plants native to the UK and
Ireland that eat animals?! These are split into three groups: sundews, bladderworts and butterworts.

What are carnivorous plants?

Usually plants draw up nutrients from the soil,  using their roots. They use these nutrients, along with carbon dioxide, water and light, to make their food. However, some plants can’t get enough nutrients from their habitat, so instead they’ve evolved to eat animals – these are our carnivorous plants! They attract their prey, usually by smelling sweet, offering nectar, or by looking attractive to the insect. Some sticky plants may even capture animals as they simply bumble by, like a fly getting caught in a spider’s web. Once their prey has landed, they are quickly trapped. The plant ‘eats’ them, using the nutrients it absorbs from them to grow.


Tim Bailey


Like sundews, butterworts have tentacles topped with a droplet, designed to trap their prey (usually gnats and midges). These tentacles are very tiny and spread all over the leaves of the plant, so if you touch the leaf it will feel greasy. When their prey is captured, the leaves slowly fold inwards (like on the picture shown) to stop the insect from being washed away by rain.

Round-leaved Sundew

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION


These are probably the most well known of all the carnivorous plants, and are beautiful and vibrant. The leaves have ‘tentacles’, which have a sticky droplet at the tip, ready to capture prey. The droplet glistens like jewels in the sunlight – beautiful! When an insect lands on the droplet, it becomes stuck, and more tentacles move towards it and attach. The tentacles release enzymes and acids which digest the captured prey.


Tim Bailey 


Bladderworts are aquatic, meaning they’re found in water. They have a hollow trap, which they use to hold their prey. Near the door of this trap, there are very sensitive hairs, that control whether the door opens or closes. When a creature makes the tiniest movement on one of these hairs, the door opens and quickly draws the prey in. Inside the trap, the animals quickly lose access to oxygen and can suffocate, as well as being digested by enzymes released by the plant.

Where can I see these plants?

These plants live in boggy areas, so you can look for them in peatland. Lots of peatland is protected, which means that it’s against the law to harm them. So if you do visit, you need to be careful not to cause any damage to the important habitat. You can often see these plants from tracks and walkways, but never go on to a bog without making sure it is safe to do so.

Some top places to look: