At the end of winter in 2019 I embarked on an expedition to document the carnivorous plants of Western Australia. Over 17 days, I drove almost 3,500 km and photographed over 50 species in their habitat.
The Avon Valley region is an undulating plateau within the Darling Scarp, a band of hills that runs parallel to the coastal plain in which Perth is situated. This escarpment is mostly composed of lifted granite bedrock covered with a layer of laterite. The lush forests in the area provide refuge for many species of sundews and it is here that I concentrated my final days of exploration in Western Australia.
Having no luck in the river valley, I returned to the car and found a road that took me to an urbanised area on top of the hills. En route to a nature reserve, I turned a corner to see a large granite platform that was covered in a sparkling field of D. heterophylla – and they were still in flower! Many of the multipetalled blooms hosted Setocoris bugs, a genus of insects found in association Drosera that are able to avoid getting stuck in the dew. The rock surface was kept under a thin film of water from a seepage higher up and it occurred to me that it was particularly vulnerable to degradation should a developer divert the water source for housing. This really highlighted the need for conservation and heightened my appreciation for the fenced off nature reserves common in the region.
Nearby, I located a hiking trail and went to see what I could discover in the forested national park. The most notable find was the large rosettes of D. collina growing in the laterite pebbles. The fine specimens had acquired a red blush, as is common for rosetted tuberous species towards the end of their growing season, but still retained copious amounts of dew on their leaves. With that, I made my way to the Airbnb and had my first comfortable sleep in days.
I arose the following morning for my final day of exploration. I had saved the best for last – a long full-day hike in the Perth Hills towards the south east. This trail would take me to some of the highest points in the Darling Scarp and was scattered with granite outcrops where I knew sundews were waiting in abundance. Eager to get going, I arrived at the starting location early in the morning.
The trail began at a huge outcrop that was covered with a thick layer of moss and etched with streamlets. Tall stems of red D. macrantha and D. pallida, illuminated against the morning sun, appeared as if they were flames that had set the bushes on fire. In the moist depressions of the rock grew thousands of U. multifida and a few stems of D. gigantea that were just beginning to unfurl their leaves.
Following the track into the dappled jarrah forest, I was ecstatic to find D. squamosa growing in abundance! This species is arguably the most beautiful of the rosetted tuberous sundews, with a contrasting border of red against the green base of the leaves. The lustrous plants, heavy with dew, stood out like jewels amongst the leaf litter and certainly left a lasting impression.
As I trekked up the peaks, I was rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the hills that stretched for miles in each direction. Complementing the scenery were large rosettes of D. bulbosa growing in the moss, and nice stems of D. stolonifera that occupied the laterite slopes. In the moist flats, D. rosulata grew in abundance and D. modesta populated the creek beds. I found sundews wherever I looked and could not have asked for a better day of hiking.
However, there was one thing on my mind – I still wanted to photograph D. gigantea growing in full glory. Completing the trail with an hour of daylight left, I wondered where I could possibly see such plants. Perhaps I had developed a sixth sense after two weeks in the Western Australian wilderness as I felt sundews calling me into burnt bushland towards a low lying group of granite platforms.
This outcrop differed from the ones I had seen earlier in that it was flat and low-lying, with the surface itself buried under a few centimetres of peat. The rock layer inhibited the growth of trees and simultaneously created a wet exposed niche perfect for sundews. As the forest opened up before me I saw a vast clearing full of D. menziesii. The wet moss gardens were studded with stunning examples of D. bulbosa in the most vivid red, whilst masses of flowering D. macrantha grew in the bushes.
In the distance, the drainage field of the outcrop was lit with a familiar glow. I approached to discover hundreds of red and green D. gigantea illuminated against the golden rays of the evening! Perhaps stimulated by fire, this population had matured particularly early and presented a full set of foliage. Seeing this beautiful site capped off an already flawless day, and as the sun set over the field of sundews, I could not think of a more perfect way to end the expedition of a lifetime.