International Carnivorous Plant Society

Drosera spatulata Species Complex

Drosera spatulata, Australia

Drosera spatulata var. spatulata


Species of the Drosera spatulata complex are found from New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia, through southern Asia, and into China and Japan. As would be expected with that wide a range, there are a number of closely related species and varieties.

  • Drosera spatulata var. spatulata itself or plants very similar are found throughout the full range. There is tremendous variation in plants considered Drosera spatulata var. spatulata. Some of this variation is not taxonomically relevant, some is, but not officially recognized at this time.

    The variation from location to location can be quite extreme within Australia and Tasmania. The range in plant size is on the order of 2 to 5 cm. Some of this is local ecological adaptation where, for instance, a location will have short or unpredictable seasons and the plants will grow quickly and bloom quite small. This is genetic as the plants in cultivation are also small and may be hard to maintain long term in captivity. However, size is not a taxonomic character. Flower color also is not considered taxonomically significant. It can be white or pink. To define a separate species or variety, there needs to be something else different for the plant to get a separate name.

    Leaf form of Drosera spatulata var. spatulata plants in Australia, Tasmania, parts of southeast Asia, and Japan tend to be long spathulate-cuneate shaped with a short petiole. (If you are not familiar with terms used to describe plant structures, please see Glossary of Botanical Terms at the Western Australian Herbarium FloraBase.)
  • New Zealand has four forms of Drosera spatulata as described by Bruce Salmon:  
    • The most common New Zealand form has a spathulate-cuneate leaf lamina that is shorter than the petiole.  It is found on both the north and south island.  It was given the name Drosera propinqua in 1840.
    • The Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island have a form of Drosera spatulata that may or may not be Drosera spatulata var. spatulata. The leaf lamina is cuneate-spathulate with a petiole that is very short. 
    • The South Island West Coast form is more robust and hairy than the common form.  This form has narrowly cuneate-obovate leaf laminas with long petioles. It needs a name.
    • The New Zealand Alpine form is a smaller plant than the typical form but has almost normal sized flowers.  The leaf laminas are orbicular-spathulate and the petioles are long.  This form was given the name Drosera triflora in 1890.
  • Drosera spatulata var. bakoensis is found on the island of Borneo in the Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia. It differs from Drosera spatulata var. spatulata by having a rotundate to spatulate leaf leaf lamina and short scapes with fewer flowers and larger petals.  Flower petals are pale pink.  The plants tend to be 15 to 20 mm wide and short lived.
  • Drosera spatulata var. gympiensis is found on the Australian coast between Gympie and Fraser Island. This variety is distinguished by short, hairy scapes with fewer flowers than Drosera spatulata var. spatulata. Flower petals are dark pink.
  • Drosera spatulata var. lovellae or Drosera lovellae is found on Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia. This variety or species name is not generally accepted because the plant is distinguished by simply being much larger than typical Drosera spatulata var. spatulata. The plants are easily 7 cm across.
  • The Hong Kong/Macao area of China has a unique form of Drosera spatulata. Compared to typical Drosera spatulata var. spatulata, the plants are more hairy and robust with a cuneate-orbicular leaf lamina.
    • There is a Drosera spatulata complex plant described as Drosera loureirii in 1841 from China. It would require an examination of the type specimen to know if it is the Hong Kong "Drosera spatulata" or some other species or hybrid. The drawing in the publication looks most like typical Drosera spatulata.
  • Drosera oblanceolata is found in southeastern China, typically in Hong Kong and neighboring areas.  The plants tend to be larger than Drosera spatulata var. spatulata and have semi-erect, oblanceolate leaves. The Flora of Hong Kong says leaves can be up to 46 mm long.  Scapes are typically short and subglabrous. Flower petals are pale pink.  There are known hybrids in the wild between Drosera oblanceolata and a the local form of "Drosera spatulata".
  • Drosera ultramafica is found at high elevations in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia on ultramafic or serpentine soils. The plants have have semi-erect, oblanceolate leaves and tend to have stems. The scape is less glandular than Drosera spatulata var. spatulata.  The flower petals are white.
  • Drosera neocaledonica is found on the island of New Caledonia. It is similar to Drosera ultramafica except the leaf laminas are spathulate and petioles much longer; the scape is densely covered with glandular trichomes. The flower petals are white.
  • Drosera tokaiensis is native to Japan. We could debate whether it should be considered part of the Drosera spatulata species complex because we know the species is of hybrid origin and one of the parents is not part of the complex.  Drosera tokaiensis is a hexaploid whose parents are tetraploid Drosera spatulata and diploid Drosera rotundifolia. It has been referred to as Drosera spatulata 'Kansai', Drosera spatulata subsp. tokaiensis, and Drosera kansaiensis.  Triploid first generation Drosera spatulata x rotundifolia hybrids are found in the wild. The plant is easy to tell from Drosera spatulata var. spatulata because the leaf laminas are rotundate on plants larger than any of the Drosera spatulata varieties that have similar leaves. The Hong Kong plants have much redder leaves with somewhat shorter petioles and slightly more spatulate laminas. The flowers are pink.

In these comparisons I have concentrated on obvious characters such plant size, flower petal color, and leaf shape. However there are many other differences between each of these varieties and species. Taxonomists need to find a balance between "natural variation" and "taxonomic variation" because taxonomy could become insane if each location of such a widespread species complex had its own variety or species. 


I include Drosera tokaiensis in the complex because many people confuse it with Drosera spatulata.  To make matters worse, Drosera tokaiensis is easy to grow and tends to become a weed in collections. It is commonly misidentified. Quite often it invades pots with other species and takes over leading to Drosera tokaiensis being distributed as something else.


The most common Drosera spatulata-types in cultivation and easiest to grow are Drosera tokaiensis, Drosera spatulata Hong Kong/Macao, Drosera oblanceolata x spatulata, Drosera ultramafica x spatulata, and Drosera spatulata from certain locations in Australia. These types tend to be longer-lived perennials than Drosera spatulata var. bakoensis and others that tend to bloom themselves to death or just decide after a while they are tired of living.  

-- John Brittnacher
July 2017

For more information please see:

Bailey, F.M. (1893) Contributions to the Queensland Flora. Queensland Department of Agriculture Botany Bulletin vol. 7. (Drosera lovellae pp 61-62, Read or Download)

Colenso, W. 1890. A Description of some Newly-discovered Phænogamic Plants, being a Further Contribution towards the making-known the Botany of New Zealand.Trans. N. Zeal. Inst. vol. 22. (Drosera triflora on pp 460-462, Read or Download )

Cunningham, Allan (1840) Flora Insularum Nova Zelandia Precursor; or a Specimen of the Botany of the Island of New Zealand, IV.  IN: Jardine, Selby, Johnston, Hooker, and Taylor, Annals of Natural History or Magazine of Zoology, Botany, and Geology. vol 4. R. and J.E. Taylor Publisher, London. (Drosera propinqua on pp 109-110, Read or Download )

Fleischmann, Andreas and Ch’ien C. Lee (2009) A new variety of Drosera spatulata (Droseraceae) from Sarawak, Borneo. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 38(1):4-9 ( PDF )

Fleischmann, A., A.S. Robinson, S. McPherson, V. Heinrich, E. Gironella & D.A. Madulid (2011) Drosera ultramafica (Droseraceae), a new sundew species of the ultramafic flora of the Malesian highlands. Blumea 56(1):10–15.

Gibson, Robert (1994) Carnivorous plants of New Zealand: A review. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 23(3):74-81 ( PDF )

Gibson, Robert (1998) Observations on a selection of Tasmanian carnivorous plants. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 27(3):90-92 ( PDF )

Gibson, Robert and Ivan Snyder (2005) Drosera spatulata var. gympiensis: The Formal Description of the 'Hairy Sepal' Taxon from South-Eastern Queensland. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 34(2):56-60 ( PDF )

Hayakawa, Hiroshi , Hidenori Hamachi, Kohei Ogawa, Yukio Minaniya, Jun Yokoyama, Ryo Arakawa, and Tatsuya Fukuda (2012) New records of Drosera tokaiensis subsp. hyugaensis (Droseraceae) from Kochi Prefecture, Japan. Botany 90:763–769. 

Hooker, W. J. and G. A. W. Arnott. (1841) The botany of Captain Beechey's voyage; comprising an acount of the plants collected by Messrs. Lay and Collie, and other officers of the expedition, during the voyage to the Pacific and Behring's Strait, performed in His Majesty's ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F. W. Beechey in the years 1825, 26, 27, and 28. H. G. Bohn. London. (Drosera loureirii p 167, Read or Download, illustration on preceding page)

Lowrie, Allen (2013) Carnivorous Plants of Australia Magnum Opus. 3 volumes. Redfern Natural History Productions Ltd., Poole, GB. 

Salmon, Bruce (2001) Carnivorous Plants of New Zealand. Ecosphere Publications. Auckland, New Zealand.


Drosera spatulata from Hong Kong. These plants are about 35 mm wide. Drosera spatulata from Hong Kong is one of the easier Drosera spatulata varieties to grow.

Drosera spatulata from Queensland, Australia. This 20 mm wide plant is of the typical Australian form, only small. It looks a lot like a miniature Drosera aliciae.

Drosera spatulata var. bakoensis

Drosera spatulata var. bakoensis is a variety from Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

D. spatulata var. gympiensis

Drosera spatulata var. gympiensis is found near Gympie, Australia. Photo by Ivan Snyder.

Drosera spatulata from Stewart Island, New Zealand. This 20 mm wide plant prefers cooler conditions as found in its native habitat.



Drosera oblanceolata from Lantau Island, Hong Kong.


Drosera oblanceolata x spatulata. This plant is common in the Hong Kong area where both species grow.



Drosera ultramafica Mt Manalingahan, Palawan, Philippines.


Drosera ultramafica x spatulata. Hybrid produced in cultivation.



Drosera tokaiensis x rotundifolia.


Drosera tokaiensis, Japan.



Drosera spatulata, Sydney, Australia.


Drosera spatulata, Macao, China. Do the sepals look different enough to consider this a separate species?



Drosera ultramafica, Philippines.


Drosera oblanceolata, Lantau Island, Hong Kong.



Drosera oblanceolata x spatulata.