Mucilage is the name of the glistening balls of “dew” like substance found on Drosera. Before I begin explaining why your Drosera may have lost its mucilage and how to rectify this, let’s spend a minute talking about the substance itself.
Mucilage is edible. It’s a ingredient in some foods. It’s also used in medicine to relieve irritation of mucus membranes. It’s also an ingredient in some glues. Drosera use mucilage to catch, trap and digest prey. The plant can then access nutrients which aren’t in the media to promote health and new growth. Of course, from our perspective, it makes Drosera look amazingly interesting too.
The other fact you may find quite surprising is mucilage is definitely not exclusive to Drosera, mucilage can be found in most plants alive today. Drosera, along with a few other plants like Cactus and Aloe vera have much more mucilage than other plants, but it plays an important part in food production, seed germination and health for most plants alive today.
Mucilage is sensitive. It is a good indicator of plant stress. While it’s completely normal and unavoidable for Drosera to loose mucilage during transport and shipping, if your plant has started loosing mucilage for no obvious reason, it can indicate one or more of the four environmental conditions below may be out of whack. So What does a nice Drosera environment look like?
Lack of light will make a Drosera stop making mucilage. Don’t keep your Drosera in deep, dark shade all the time. Bright, indirect light is best. Even a sunny windowsill is a great place to grow Drosera. Some growers even grow their Drosera in full sun, with protection from hot afternoon sun during summer.
Humidity around your Drosera should be between 50% – 70%. It’s not always possible or practical to achieve. In reality, any increase in humidity will be warmly received. The easiest way to artificially increase humidity is to stand your plant in a tray of water. But provided you’ve got the light and wind situation under control, many Drosera will be quite forgiving when it comes to humidity.
Always keep your Drosera very well watered. During the growing season, stand your Drosera pot in at least a few centimeters of water. Only ever water your Drosera with rainwater or demineralized water. Tap water often contains too many dissolved salts for Drosera. Ultimately, your plant will die from tap water.
Hot, dry and strong winds are not a friend of mucilage.They increase transpiration and water loss through evaporation. Wind also blows debris and dust onto your Drosera, further eroding mucilage. The low humidity typically associated with hot wind make it impossible for Drosera to replace lost mucilage, making leaves more susceptible to burning.
For the purposes of education, we have exposed a pot of Drosera capensis to the hot northerly winds and scorching sun of S.A. for four weeks weeks during hot summer conditions. The plants aren’t looking too good at all. There’s not a drop of mucilage anywhere, and the leaves are yellowing and turning brown. Even though we’ve kept the plant sitting in water, top watered once a day, started out with healthy plants and used the right media, these plants are very unhappy. And very helpless. Right now, they can’t catch and feed on insects. So how are we going to fix this?
Many people have enormous success growing their Drosera in hydroponic seed propagation kits. They act as mini greenhouses. They’ve got a tray to fill with water, and a plastic lid with vents to allow air movement and ventilation while protecting from wind and dust. We also put the plant in an area where it received bright light, but no direct sun.
Drosera does not absolutely require a mini greenhouse, any place sheltered from hot wind and sun will suffice. For example, under a verandah, next to a bright window inside or under the shade of a tree are all perfect spots for Drosera to recover and thrive.
The same pot, four weeks later, literally look like different plants. Even the Sphagnum moss has responded to some protection. By restoring the Drosera to health, it can now catch prey, digest nutrients and grow stronger and bigger.