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Turning the tables in the bog

A Scottish bog in summer can be a haven of calm, as imagined by David Ward in his post for this blog. All too often, however, a still day means the midges are out in force.

One little bog plant, the sundew, has turned this situation to its advantage in an unusual way – it has taken to eating insects.

Our wet climate means that boggy habitat is well represented in Scotland and of international significance. But the challenge for a bog-dwelling plant is getting enough of the vital nutrients needed for growth. In waterlogged conditions the decomposition of dead plants is slowed by a lack of oxygen. The plant material builds up to form the dark spongy, yet nutrient poor, peat that is so characteristic of our bogs.

Sundews are found in the wettest part of bogs, often near water. On sunny days their small rosettes of leaves glisten, giving them a jewel-like quality. A closer examination shows that each leaf is covered in short projections, each tipped in what looks like a drop of dew. In fact, this substance is a sticky secretion produced by the plant with the sole purpose of capturing insects. The leaf is effectively living fly-paper.

Charles Darwin was fascinated by the sundew and experimented with it to see how the insect capture process worked in detail. He discovered that within minutes of an insect being ensnared the small projections curl over to engulf it. The pace of movement is too slow to be obvious to the casual observer, but the insect is quickly held in a deadly embrace and the process of digestion begins.

Oswald was inspired by nature to write music. The story of the sundew shows how nature’s inventiveness can be quite unexpected and truly inspirational.

You can read more about the plants and music associated with the project in the Botanics magazine Autumn feature feature.

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