2.3 Beware the insectivorous plants of the peatlands

Carnivorous plants are a source of fascination to many students. Venus flytraps and pitcher plants are instantly recognisable as the most famous examples, and although we  may assume that they are to be found in far off sub tropical biomes we may need look no further than the boggy peatlands of Ireland and the UK to discover their cousins lurking between the spongy sphagnum moss

Approaches to Learning

This is a fun engaging activity that helps students connect how abiotic factors (in this case lack of nutrient availability in soil) leads to species diversity. Teachers could pose the question “why can you find carnivourous plants in peat/boggy land"?, at the start of  a lesson, then let students work through all  the activities. It is advisable to work through the Nitrogen cycle activities  first but there are links to 8.2 (sustainable use of a resource), 5.1 (soil structure), and ecosystem goods and services embedded within the activity. As a stand alone activity, this should take around 40 -60 mins to complete.

Student Tasks

  1. Read the following information about the peatlands

What is Peat?

Peat, or turf, as it is often referred to in Ireland, is a type of soil that contains a high amount of dead organic matter, mainly plants that have accumulated over thousands of years. It takes approximately 10 years for 1cm of peat to form! Through analysis of the soil, often using pollen identification, the types of plants that grew, died and accumulated to form a piece of peat can be discovered. Dead plants in peatlands are different to other ecosystems as they do not fully decompose. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi are prevented from rapidly decomposing the dead plants as the waterlogged conditions reduce the amount of oxygen (anoxic) in the soil peatland are found not only in Ireland but around the world

Where are peatlands found?


Summary of ecosystem services that peatlands provide.(University of Leeds)


What is peat cutting?

[3]Peat cutting is the extraction and removal of organic peat soils. This can be carried out for horticultural (gardening) use or for fuel. Peat extracted for fuel can take place for both commercial and domestic purposes.

What are some of the consequences of removing peat?

  • direct loss of peat
  • direct loss of biodiversity i.e. plant and species present
  • changes to the physical condition of peatland such as compression (from mechanical cutting) as well as significant changes to vegetation composition with the following consequences
  • adverse impact on hydrology resulting in localised flooding, and national impacts from the loss of an important carbon store
  • adverse impact on landscape and visual value of the area with potential adverse impacts on the local tourism economy
  • potential adverse impact on archaeological sites
  • removal of a carbon sink

Focus on the sundew as a common species found in peatlands around the world




Fly gets caught in the sticky tentacles of a sundew (Irish News, 2018) [4]

The Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia L.) is a strange and beautiful plant that can be found sitting among the soggy Sphagnum mosses in peatlands around the world.  A tiny plant, it stands out from the crowd because of its diet. Hair-like tendrils on each reddish leaf are tipped with glistening droplets that attract passing insects. But this 'dew' is very sticky, trapping the insect; the sundew's tendrils detect the presence of its stuck prey and curl inwards to engulf it. Eventually, the whole leaf wraps around the insect which is digested. The acidic habitats the Round-leaved Sundew lives in don't provide enough nutrients, so it has evolved this carnivorous way of life to supplement its diet.

2. Watch this short video to learn more about why the sundew has a taste for insects


3. Using this table, list some of the ecosystem goods and services provided by the peatlands

summary of ecosystem goods and services in peat soil
  1. Do you think peat is a renewable or non renewable form of natural capital?
  2. Describe two of the impacts created by peat removal on ecosystems
  3. Justify whether or not you think peatcutting is sustainable?
  4. Using the words below, explain why sundews are found in in soils with slow organic decomposition rates




  1. ^ https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/geography/research/projects/tropical-peatland/what-are-peatlands
  2. ^ https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/geography/research/projects/tropical-peatland/what-are-peatlands
  3. ^ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peat_cutting_by_the_B888_-_geograph.org.uk_-_480956.jpg
  4. ^ https://www.irishnews.com/lifestyle/2018/06/30/news/stephen-colton-s-take-on-nature-when-in-an-irish-bog-beware-the-murderous-sundew-1364822/
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