Dewy Pine – Drosophyllum lusitanicum
What image does the name Dewy Pine (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) conjure? If you imagined the obvious – a small, dew-covered pine tree, you’d have a solid idea how Drosophyllum lusitanicum looks. The Dewy Pine’s carnivorous leaves look like pine needles slathered in tiny drops of sweet-smelling dew. As old carnivorous leaves die back, they produce a branching stem that looks like the woody stem of a small tree.
Don’t let the unassuming looks fool you. Like other sticky carnivorous plants, Sundews, Butterworts and Rainbow plants, the Dewy Pine is a voracious hunter. Unlike its sticky cousins, dew drops smell like sweet honey, and actually detach from the plant as an insect comes into contact with them. More details on that, below.
Drosophyllum lusitanicum is the only species in its genus. It’s a curious plant and you may be surprised to learn that, on a genetic level, Dewy Pines are more closely related to Nepenthes and even Triphyophyllum (the on-again, off-again carnivorous plant) than other, more analogously dewed carnivorous plants.
Biology of a Dewy Pine
The leaves of Drosophyllum lusitanicum are thin and range from 8 to 10 inches in length. They are lined with hair-like, red-tinted glands. This is where the “dewy” is secreted. Each drop of glue catches sunlight, sparkling like a leaf after a brisk morning dew. The dew drop itself acts as a magnifying glass for the red coloring of the gland beneath it. The part that is most irresistible to unsuspecting insects? -The plant smells of sweet honey.
When an insect comes into contact with the dew mucilage, the droplet sticks to it and detaches from the plant. As the insect struggles to free itself of the glue, it comes into contact with more glands, and gets further coated. Eventually, breathing holes get covered and the insect suffocates, dying on a leaf.
Sessile glands along the linear leaves secrete digestive enzymes that work to liquify the insect’s soft tissues. The insect soup drips down the leaf and gets absorbed by the Dewy Pine.
Sub-soil biology & requirements
Dewy Pines grow in dry, sandy soil. They maintain relatively shallow roots and are naturally found on hills among sandy gravel in-between boulders where they can catch the most runoff rainwater. Soil is preferred drier than most other carnivorous plants, so avoid the water tray method and allow for drainage. In fact, they handle hot summer temperatures above 100° Fahrenheit just fine.
Even though Dewy Pine growth will slow during winter months, they do not have a true winter dormancy. During this time, you can let soil remain damp for a few days, but allow it to dry before the next heavy watering. Winter months are a bit cooler for Drosophyllum, with brief freezes down into the 20°s F. Just make sure this isn’t the norm, or the plants will be unhappy.
Over time, the plant will produce offshoots from the main stem resulting in a scraggly carnivorous bush.
Dewy Pine flowers are bright yellow, and like Byblis, even the flower stalks appear to have carnivorous tendencies. The flowers show up around spring time and scatter ripened seeds in the summer. They self-pollinate upon closing, but for best seed set, use a small paint brush to tease the flower and transfer ample pollen to the stamen. After a few weeks, cone-shaped seed pods will ripens and crack open. Seeds are large and black and can be stored in the refrigerator until autumn. More on germination techniques at the bottom of this page.
Dry soil is no place for seeds to germinate, so they lie in wait until winter months bring the rain needed to safely sprout. They quickly send roots into the sandy soil, establishing a foundation upon which rapid early growth occurs. Fully mature foliage appears within a few months of sprouting.
Where to find Dewy Pines in the wild
You can find this unique carnivorous plant in the gravely soils, dry hills, and Mediterranean climates of southern Spain, coastal Portugal, and northern Morocco.
Cultivation, growing techniques & propagation
Use one part perlite, pumice, lava rock, horticultural sand, and sphagnum peat moss. It’s a recipe for good drainage, so don’t go heavy-handed on the peat, or the soil will hold too much moisture.
A large 12+ inch terra-cotta pot is great for Dewy Pines. The reason for such a big pot is that adult plants will go into shock, and often die if their root systems are disturbed. You’ll want this pot to be the permanent long-term home for your plant.
Use distilled or reverse osmosis water. This can be inexpensively purchased in most grocery stores, or you can invest in a reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system that hooks up to a sink (bonus – this also provides great drinking water for humans and pets).
Do remember that Dewy Pines like it drier than most carnivorous plants. Drainage is key, so avoid water trays that will result in standing water. Let the soil dry out in-between waterings during the summer (1-2 waterings a week in warmer climates). During winter, soil can stay a little more damp, but never what you would consider wet, or water logged. After the plant flowers in the spring is a good time to shift soil conditions back to the drier side.
Full, direct sun for most of the day will make the plant happiest. For this reason, they generally don’t make great terrarium plants.
You’ll most likely want to grow your Dewy Pine outdoors, and if you’re growing outdoors, the plant should catch plenty of its own food. That said, you can supplement by applying dried insects directly to the leaves.
If the plant is catching food, it’s probably overkill to fertilize. That said, you can supplement with a very mild/diluted foliar fertilizer. Use diluted Maxsea or something similar.
Try to avoid transplanting Dewy Pines, as root disturbance can shock and kill adult plants. If you receive a young plant, transplant it into its permanent home as early as possible. If you’re lucky, the young plant will be in a peat pot that can be directly planted into a larger container (pot-and-all, since peat pots will simply decompose into soil). If the plant is in another, non-compostable container, transplant it by removing the entire pot’s full of dirt as intact as possible. You can slightly dampen the soil ahead of time so that it clumps together. Have the container you’re transplanting into already prepared, and a hole dug out for this entire soil clump. Place the soil clump in the hole, and fill in the gaps with extra soil. Your mission is to transplant the Dewy Pine while minimizing root disturbance.
You’re not going to be able to propagate Dewy Pines via divisions.
Cuttings also don’t work with Drosophyllum.
If you’ve stored your seed in a refrigerator until autumn, great. Remove the seed and attack it with sandpaper. When I say “attack,” what I mean is, you’re going to lightly scrape the surface of the seed to the point where you see markings. After this, soak them in water for a few days.
Take your soaked seed, and place it on a shallow watering tray filled with horticultural sand. Don’t worry about burying the seed. Within a few days to a couple of weeks, the seeds will sprout and start growing roots. For this reason, you’re going to want to inspect them daily, and be quick about plucking sprouted seeds before those sensitive roots take hold in the sand. Simply place it on the soil surface in the Drosophyllum’s permanent home, keep it damp for a few weeks, and it should root up nicely. Once rooting occurs in earnest, start cutting back on the water, and more closely mimic the normal water regiment for an adult Dewy Pine – allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Expose the plantlets to lots of sun, and fresh air to avoid botrytis and other seedling diseases. At this stage, they should be tolerant of direct sun, and even mild frosts, so outside is probably best.
Dewy Pines can be propagated via tissue culture using seed.
The plants seem extremely resistant to pests. Only problems tend to be fungal, and that’s a sign that the soil is too wet, or the air too humid and stagnant. Move the plant to more appropriate conditions, and treat with a fungicide.
Warm-temperate Mediterranean-lovers, the Dewy Pine will do best with warm summers and cool winters. They’ll survive temperatures past 100°F, and into the 20s°F. Avoid repeated freezes as too many will weaken the plants. Your best bet will likely be to grow them outdoors where you can shield them from excessive rain.
Great candidates outdoors if you live in Western Australia, South Africa, or Sunny California. Essentially, mimic a Mediterranean climate and the plants will be happy outside.
They’ll thrive in cold houses, cool houses, and warm houses. Supplement with fertilizer or dried insects, if they don’t catch much food naturally. Avoid stagnant air and too much soil moisture to reduce chances of a fungal infection.
They get big, require lots of light, and fresh air. They probably aren’t great terrarium candidates.
Do you have a super sunny windowsill? Then it may work. Otherwise, stick to outdoor growing, or try a sunroom if you have one.
They won’t be happy in traditional bog gardens. Potted outdoor plants or greenhouse growing will be your best bet.