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Observations on a New Drosera Species in the Ord River Region (Australia)

Hartmeyer, I. & Hartmeyer, S. 
(2001) Carnivores Plant Newsletter (ICPS) 30/4:107 - 110

Keywords: field trip: Australia, Drosera.
Summary: During a video trip in the Ord River region 1995 the authors discovered a tropical sundew apparently distinct from the common red form of Drosera indica. But back home the video pictures on the remarkable plant without further material were not sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a new species. In April 2001 the authors returned to the Kimberleys to search for the Drosera again, and they were successful. This time the amazing new species that develops tentacles with grotesque yellow "heads" without mucilage, has been recorded on digital video and a herbarium specimen has been sent to Dr. Jan Schlauer who confirmed the Drosera to be a new distinct species and kindly agreed to provide a description to validly publish a scientific name for the plant.

First Discovery

Meanwhile more than six years passed since the both of us were walking through a spear-grass meadow in the Ord River area north of Kununurra, searching carnivorous plants (CP) for our video (Hartmeyer & Hartmeyer 1995). On that particular day in April 1995, one of the authors (SH) found a single plant of a remarkable sundew, at first glance looking like a red Drosera indica. But on closer inspection it differed from this species by the conspicuous deep red colour of the much more delicate looking trapping leaves as well as by the orientation of the inflorescence looming up parallel to the erect stem. Light yellow blotches shining through the plant from the inner part between the dark sticky leaves seemed to be pollen from one of the various grasses growing in that habitat. We filmed the amazing plant and showed it on our CP-footage with the question to everybody: "This can probably be a new species. Please give us a feed back if you have ever seen such a Drosera."
The first reaction came from Dr. Jan Schlauer (Germany, a prominent CP expert and CPN editor), when we showed parts of our new movie at the annual meeting of the German CP society (GFP) 1995 in Merzig. He thought the whole plant looked very interesting and asked us for any living plants, seeds or herbarium specimens. Unfortunately on our first trip we did not find any ripe seeds and it goes without a saying that on our video tours we strictly follow the advice: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints". So all we could show were our video pictures but that alone was not sufficient to describe and introduce a new species, even though some more CP enthusiasts showed an interest in the plant.

Actually we were convinced that what we found in the Eastern Kimberley is something close to, but different from the common Drosera indica. It was clear that we planned to find it again for a much more detailed inspection on a future Australia trip. However, due to some serious health problems - which forced one of us (SH) to retire - travelling was impossible for us for a long time. That way six long years passed until we were approaching the small Kununurra airport, in April again, glad and excited waiting for our first exploration in the field.

The Rediscovery

The climate was much more humid this year and during the first days the temperature did not drop below 24 °C even at night. April means early autumn in the Kimberleys, the end of the wet season which brought a lot of rain this year, still causing a humidity of more than 80 %. The weather forecast showed nearly constantly 34° - 36° C for Kununurra, so we decided to use noon time only for searching interesting sites with our rented car, to take a break during the hottest time, and to return for filming in the later afternoon. It is much more difficult to find the expected CPs some hours past noon because the flowers of Byblis and Drosera close, which makes them much harder to discover in the grass.
We first drove to the meadow several km north of Kununurra where we had found the fascinating red sundew six years ago. But this site was still flooded and not even an Utricularia flower was seen on it this time. We also inspected the surrounding area but without success. A little disappointed we headed back, making another stop at a place where we had found huge Drosera ordensis inhabited by unique small Cyrtopeltis bug species in 1995. These beautiful plants were also a subject on our video but again we got disappointed because some kind of cable had been laid along the roadside, and the surface was now covered with a thick layer of laterite and sandstone gravel showing no vegetation any more. Also on a short walk through the spear-grass beside no CP was found.

In Germany people say "All good things are in 3s!" So we decided to make a further attempt on this tour, following our own hints for finding CPs in the Kimberleys (Hartmeyer & Hartmeyer 2000): "Look for groups of Pandanus trees in spear-grass meadows along the road." We passed by some of those easily recognized plants but when we saw a group of four or five we stopped the car again and stepped into the grass, which starts growing there some 3 to 4 m from both sides of the road. And after only a few steps, we almost did not believe our eyes because we were not standing in front of a common Drosera burmanni or Byblis filifolia. No, the first CP we found this day was the red species we hoped to find again on one of several excursions during the next two weeks. And the plant fulfilled all our expectations. We were lucky and returned gladly to our bungalow for a refreshing break. Approx. 35° C can be very hot if there is no shadow in the field. We waited until the tropical sun reduced its power a little in the afternoon. Then we applied our sunscreen again, added some "Bushman Ultra" repellent against insect attacks and drove back to the newly discovered site to get the Drosera for the first time on digital video tape.

It was April 21st about 4.30 p.m. An additional macro-arm for the camera was fixed on a tripod for some close ups, and the white balance was set. The soil was fine sand, which eroded from the very old sandstone formations of the Kimberleys known as "Bungle Bungles", or from the close "Hidden Valley", with parts of red laterite. Handling the equipment down on the knees, the pants slowly started getting wet from the dry looking, but obviously wet soil. Due to the hot tropical sun this evaporating moisture must produce an effective cooling, a micro-climate that enables the plants to survive on these non shaded sites. The artificially added gravel beside the road, just some meters from the sandy soil was dry and too hot to stand on it barefoot, thus it showed almost no vegetation. Along with the dominant approx. two meter high spear-grass with the group of Pandanus, several other grasses as well as some small flowering herbs occurred together with numerous flowering Byblis filifolia, inhabited by symbiotic Setocornis bugs and a few small Drosera ordensis.

After a first look on the small LCD screen Siggi realised, that the contrasting bright yellow blotches in the centre near the stem of the erect plant are certainly not caused by sticking grass pollen. The yellow points appeared nearly constantly on every leaf in an area approx. half a cm from the stem. So the idea arose that they could be the eggs of a butterfly, maybe developing into herbivorous caterpillars ? An attempt to remove the "eggs" showed that these behaved like parts grown from the plant. Very strange for a sundew !

After Irmgards voice announced: "20 m down the road is a field with some 100 more Drosera plants !" the camera was moved and the nicely pink flowering and fruiting insect-eaters were inspected more closely. After some minutes it was clear that we needed to send herbarium material to Jan Schlauer, because the yellow heads appeared regularly on every leaf of the plants. They looked like modified tentacles carrying a yellow, non sticky head instead of a mucilage droplet. The purpose for these strange structures needs to be examined and is at the moment just speculation. However, no Drosera species producing yellow modified tentacles has been mentioned in the literature until now, and certainly Drosera indica does not have these features.

At the site we filmed the tropical sunset. At about 6.00 p.m. the temperature display on Siggi’s watch still showed 29°C. We felt the increase of humidity while fine streaks of mist rose from the soil between the spear-grass. Time to return to "Kona Lakeside" because from now on the "mossies" became so numerous that even "Bushman Ultra" did not help anymore. When we viewed our video "catch of the day" that evening, we opened a very good bottle of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate our new found sundew.

Back in Germany we visited Jan Schlauer at home, because we soon realised that the plants have been in culture world-wide since years, labelled as Drosera indica "red". He confirmed our plant - provisionally called "Drosera species Hartmeyer yellow-red" - to be a distinct new species, and he kindly agreed to describe and publish this amazing sundew, so we could concentrate on the editing of our "2001 video prey" to get our CP footage - showing even more Australian highlights - ready in time. For the exact botanical description of the plants and for further literature on the subject, please see the separate report (Schlauer 2001) or don't hesitate to visit us on the internet.

Hartmeyer, S. & Hartmeyer, I. (1995) Beautiful and Hungry - Carnivorous Plants Part 2, HUNTING VEGGIES® Video (private production), contact the authors of this article.
Hartmeyer, S. & Hartmeyer, I. (2001) Destination Carnivorous Plants (German title: "Reiseziel Insektivoren - Fleischfressende Pflanzen") CD-ROM produced by IBS-Multimedia (Germany).
Schlauer, J. (2001) Drosera hartmeyerorum spec. nov. (Droseraceae),
a New Sundew in sect. Arachnopus from North Australia, Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 30: 104 - 106