Morning Dew: A Personal Account
Carnivorous plants are one of the most exciting and unique evolutionary developments of life, existing in a paramount wavelength of existence here on planet Earth. These extraordinary members of the plantae kingdom have adapted to grow and feed off animals or protozoans creating a new link in the food chain. Encountering specie of such interest in its native habitat, one may discover an unparalleled idea of wonder or amazement because of the erratic morphology. Only then would someone have the pleasure of observing such a rare beauty accomplish its nutritive objective and peacefully digest it using synthesized enzymatic secretions.
One particularly exciting experience with a carnivorous plant, the Spatulate-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia is brought to my attention. I can still feel the warmth from sun on that particular summer day in northern Michigan.
Finally surpassing my first decade of life as a human I found myself adventuring the familiar colors and sounds of summer camp. The camp I returned to each summer exists a few hours north of my home in Michigan, in amidst the wonderfully refreshing Huron National Forest. Already had I become majorly entranced with the identification of plants, and my wonder extrapolated as I introduced myself to each new species. My interests in the dynamics of the surrounding environments began early in my childhood, with the plethora of native wildflower specie my grandmother and I identified while we shared walks in the forest near the cool sunny banks of the Stony creek that led our journeys. Memories abound, each enamored with excitement, of the individual specie encounters and being enthralled to open a book later to provide my curiosity of each with a proper name. The weather had been cloudy with a continual presence of precipitation the days previous and this day we woke up early with the sun shining into the trees, the foliage parting the flowing beams of sunlight as its prepares to blanket the forest floor. The birds were awake, chirping and singing their chorus loudly to the Earth. Our cabin of twelve boys, The Sand Tribe, hiked into the woods unaware of the endless possible sightings along the way.
As the hike accelerated it became apparent that the native species of the northern Michigan wilderness were more or less reacting to my internal inquiry. Days earlier I happened upon a five-lined skink, Eumeces fasciatus, named for the five yellow-toned stripes that run from the nose eventually merging together and transitioning to blue as it approaches the tail and continues onward. One of only two lizard species currently inhabiting the environments described as Michigan, I had eagerly been awaiting the chance to encounter such a creature. While this particular skink can be abundant in healthy habitats, many Michiganders go years or lifetimes without encountering one formally in nature. They tend to bask in sunny areas perched upon stumps, logs, rocks, or outcroppings, to increase their body temperatures and will, with first indication of an approaching threat, disappear from sight. Someone could only begin to imagine how exciting it was to lift a log adorned with Cladonia cristatella, and catch a glimpse of the beautifully marked lizard swiftly scurry out and onward past my feet to the safety of another mound of decaying tree remains. Subsequently, the days at camp became even more magical, and one after another, the secret inhabitants were revealed, like characters in a storybook suddenly coming to life. I watched patiently as a painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, quietly and with great caution walked the bank of the lake and a an Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, traversed the side of the path with stealth. The reptilia class was in session, and every introduction was welcomed. Visibly, the day had began with noticeable beauty and likewise blessed with an intangible presence of cosmic consciousness.
If one were to seek out the cosmic sense of Spirit, the journey would guide the mind amongst the flora and fauna of our profound delicate and dynamic natural ecosystem. The rare beauty of wild plants and animals is only apparent to the observer that chooses to see life in that light, or light in life. As a young being, I found that connection to nature and have nurtured and strengthened its influence since. The summer air was sweet, slightly damp with humidity and the sun grew hotter as we progressed on the path deep into the forest. Focused on the surroundings, my feet carried me in a direction unknown to my conscious mind.
Suddenly, wandering eyes met the glistening drops of “dew” gracefully balanced atop the tentacles of the prey catching leaf structures elegantly extending from the cluster of rosettes comprising a plant from my previous readings described as the Spatulate-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia! I immediately became supersaturated with excitement. There, directly in front of my toes, was an established colony of D. intermedia, resting peacefully in the sandy soils of a Lake Sheer riparian zone. This particular carnivorous plant prefers a habitat subject to periodic inundation, or acidic soils, such as wet acid bogs or sandy areas. A particular feeling arose in my chest when I realized what I was looking at. It was the kind of intense relative feeling you receive when you begin to understand the magnitude of depth of your experience and what specifically is being offered. Initially, I was presented with thoughts of accomplishment as I admired the first glimpses of beauty. Although, as I continued to speculate and learn about its gifts, I was opened to a much greater perspective of it’s internal being.
The plant was obviously unique. This specie of Drosera has spoon shaped rosettes, leaves that spatulate, or become rounded, toward the tip. On a healthy plant, the blade may be as long as five millimeters. The petioles, the part that connects the blade to the stem, are typically about two to three times as long as the blade. Especially from my premier observation, the plant was nothing short of magnificent. With red finger-like trichomes stretching out in every direction, each one tipped with a droplet of dewy substance, the Spatulate-leaved Sundew leaves a lasting impression on any encounter. The moisture collective on each of the glandular leaf hairs is a digestive enzyme used to digest its prey. When the hairs trap an insect, it allows the prey to roll up the edges of the leaf, triggering an increase in synthesis of particular enzymes protease and phosphatase. After a couple days progression, the enzymes have reached maximum concentration and the digestion process will reach finale. These plants strategize nitrogen contained within the insects to compensate for low levels of nitrogen in their acidic habitats. As previously described, this plant is one that lives and communicates uniquely among the plant kingdom and should be speculated with great admiration and respect.
Embarking on a quality hike filled with surprise and amazement was and remains to be my activity of choice. There are always lessons to be heard and new sights to come upon. As a boy, my life existed in nature’s soft open hands; easily comforted by the whispers of the leaves and entertained by the flowers that gracefully danced in the arms of the wind. The D. intermedia spotting at summer camp in Michigan continues to remind me of those roots woven so deep into my psychological figuring. I remember sharing my findings with a select few cabin mates but it was easy to see their lack of interest. The days at camp continued and so did the strengthening of my interest in plant exploration. I still continue to seek answers from plants and their great awareness of the Earth’s abundant and miraculous healing components.Since the experience of preliminary encounter, I have studied the Spatulate-leaved Sundew plant in greater detail, welcoming all aspects and dynamics in the knowledge of individual life existence. The biological genus name for the Drosera plant derives from the Greek word “droser(o)” meaning “dewy” relating to the droplets of mucilage that reside on the extremities of it’s tentacles. The intermedia specie name originates from the Latin “inter” meaning “between, or amongst” and “medi(a)” meaning “the middle” most likely due to the plant being discovered as a hybrid between two species. There are a few speculations that the Sundew is a commonly used treatment for respiratory and lung ailments such as the common cough or asthma. “Certain extracts of these plants serve as treatment for corns, verrucas, and burns. Infusions and other extracts are used against coughs, respiratory disorders, tuberculosis, arteriosclerosis, inflammations, intestinal illnesses, and syphilis. These preparations are diuretic, soothing and even aphrodisiac” (Lecoufle 1990). The naphthaquinone, or vitamin K: a fat-soluble vitamin, in the Sundew plant includes plumbagin, ramentone, ramentaceon, and biramentaceone. It is the driving substance in the plant that releases the antispasmodic effect. “Based on this effect, sundew is often referred to as an herbal antitussive (a substance capable of preventing or relieving coughing)” (Wall 2011). Each part of the plant can be finely cut and used to prepare an herbal tea. Pour boiling water over ¼- ½ teaspoon of chopped Sundew and steep for ten minutes before straining. One cup may be taken three or four times daily. A popular Sundew remedy in Europe is combined with thyme, another antitussive. Consequently, this described personal interaction held many years ago with the Sundew, Drosera Intermedia, promoted personal progressive understanding and an everlasting interest for knowledge of carnivorous plants.
Observing the natural world is necessary. It is essential to human understanding, development. Unfortunately we are faced with an unfortunate consequence of human language, being that words alone cannot describe the essence of a plant after dedicated inquiry. When the Sundew opened its tiny fingers in my direction I couldn’t think of anything better to do than listen to its story. Yet, even this account has limits based in an individual’s means of communication and portraying the wondrous energy and radiating beauty that was presented to me. After being graced with such a special plant spirit I am capable of seeing the importance of all opportunities in the natural world.