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 of the variation is taxonomically relevant, 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 7 cm. Some of the variation 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. Flower petals 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.

    Drosera spatulata was named by Jacques-Julien Labillardière in 1804 from a plant collected near Southport, Tasmania, during the d'Entrecasteaux expedition in 1793. The description basically says "spathulate" leaves and has a few other details such as glandular calyx (Read). This is the typical form of the plants in Australia, Tasmania, parts of southeast Asia, and Japan. (If you are not familiar with terms used to describe plant structures, please see Glossary of Botanical Terms at the Western Australian Herbarium FloraBase.)

    Drosera spatulata, Queensland, Australia

    Drosera spatulata var. spatulata at Jacky Jacky, Queensland, Australia. Photo © Richard Nunn.


  • 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 by Allan Cunningham (Read).


      Drosera spatulata, New Zealand

      Drosera spatulata New Zealand common form at Ahipara Gumfields, in the far north of New Zealand. Photo © Bruce Salmon.


    • 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.


      Drosera spatulata from Stewart Island, New Zealand. This 20 mm wide plant prefers cooler conditions as found in its native habitat. It does not exactly fit the description of the South Island West Coast form.


      Drosera spatulata, NZ

      Drosera spatulata from Westport, South Island, New Zealand. This plant is from the west coast of the South Island but looks more like the Alpine form. Photo © Robert Gibson.


    • 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. William Colenso gave this form the names Drosera minutula in 1889 (Read) and Drosera triflora in 1890 (Read, p. 461).


      Drosera spatulata, New Zealand

      Drosera spatulata New Zealand alpine form at Erua, near Mt. Ruapehu in the central North Island of New Zealand. Photo © Bruce Salmon.


  • 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 (PDF).


    Drosera spatulata var. bakoensis

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


  • 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 (PDF).

    Drosera spatulata var. gympiensis

    Drosera spatulata var. gympiensis near Gympie, Australia. Photo © Robert Gibson.


  • Drosera spatulata var. lovellae or Drosera lovellae is found on Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia.  It was named by F. M. Bailey in 1893 (Read Bulletin 21, pg 61-62). This variety or species is distinguished from Drosera spatulata var. spatulata by the flowers having 4 styles instead of 3. The name is not generally accepted because that distinction is not considered sufficiently important. The exact configuration of stigmas and styles in Drosera flowers can be quite variable within species and even on the same plant.
  • The Pearl River Delta (Hong Kong/Macao/Guangzhou) 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 long petioles and a cuneate-orbicular leaf lamina. The seeds are different from typical Drosera spatulata (See seed images).

    Drosera spatulata in Macau. Photo © Forbes Conrad,


    • There is a Drosera spatulata complex plant described as Drosera loureirii by William Jackson Hooker and George Arnott Walker-Arnott in 1841 that was collected in the Macau/Guangzhou (Canton) area of China (Read p 167). A close examination of the type specimen (see images at right or below) indicates this is a hybrid between Drosera oblanceolata and Drosera spatulata (A. Fleischmann, pers. comms). The orthographically correct name for this plant Drosera loureiroi.
  • Drosera oblanceolata is found in southeastern China, typically in Hong Kong, Macao, and neighboring Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. 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 the local form of Drosera spatulata.


    Drosera oblanceolata on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo © Forbes Conrad,


  • 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 ultramafica from Mt Manalingahan, Palawan, Philippines.


  • Drosera neocaledonica is found on the island of New Caledonia and was named by M.R. Hamet in 1906 (Read). 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 that are larger than any of the Drosera spatulata varieties with similar leaves. The Hong Kong plants have much redder leaves with somewhat shorter petioles and slightly more spathulate laminas. The flowers are pink.


Drosera tokaiensis from Japan.


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.


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. 

The most common Drosera spatulata-types in cultivation and easiest to grow are Drosera tokaiensis, Drosera spatulata Pearl River Delta (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
Updated January 2019


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, William (1889) On New Phænogamic Plants. IN: Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Volume 21. (Drosera minutula on pp. 81-83, Read or Download)

Colenso, William (1890) A Description of some Newly-discovered Phænogamic Plants, being a Further Contribution towards the making-known the Botany of New Zealand. IN: Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. Volume 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 (get PDF)

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 (2001) Drosera neocaledonica: Its origins, habitat, and cultivation. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 30(2):37-42 (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)

Hamet, M.R. (1906) Sur une nouvelle espèce de Drosera.  Bull.Soc.Bot.France 53:151-152 (Drosera oblanceolata Read or Download)

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)

de Labillardière, Jacques-Julien Houtou (1804) Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen. (Type description of Drosera spatulata p 79, Read or Download.)

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, Queensland, Australia

Drosera spatulata var. spatulata from Southport, Queensland, Australia. This 20 mm wide plant is of the typical Australian form, only small.


Drosera spatulata type

Drosera spatulata type

Type specimen of Drosera spatulata var. spatulata. Notice in the photo the specimen appears to have obovate laminas and long petioles.  Compare this to the photo of Drosera spatulata found near Southport, Tasmania in Gibson (1998, PDF). This image is a composite made from FI011174 available from Museo di Storia Naturale dell'Università, Firenze and JSTOR Global Plants. Original image © Museo di Storia Naturale dell'Università, Firenze.


Drosera spatulata, NSW, Australia

Drosera spatulata var. spatulata at Evans Head, New South Wales, Australia. Photo © Richard Nunn.


Drosera spatulata, Tasmania

Drosera spatulata var. spatulata at Lake Pedder, Tasmania, Australia. Photo © Richard Nunn.


Drosera spatulata, New Zealand

Drosera spatulata New Zealand common form at Ahipara Gumfields, New Zealand. The plant is variable according to growing conditions. Photo © Bruce Salmon.


Drosera spatulata, New Zealand

Drosera spatulata New Zealand common form in the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo © Bruce Salmon.


Drosera minutula type

Type specimen of Drosera minutula. One, possibly two of the plants in this image appear to be Drosera pygmaea. Notice the small size of the plant, orbicular-spathulate laminas, long petioles, and very short scape. This image is a composite made from Kew K000659196. Original image © Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Drosera triflora type

Type specimen of Drosera triflora. Notice the plant is very similar to Drosera minutula. This image is a composite made from Kew K000659197. Original image © Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Drosera spatulata type

Herbarium specimen of Drosera lovellae. Notice the plant looks like a typical Australian Drosera spatulata with a short scape and is typical in size. The image is a composite made from Kew K000659091. Original image © Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The actual type specimen may be viewed at JSTOR Global Plants. It is 20 mm wide.


Drosera loureirii type

Drosera loureirii type

Drosera loureirii type

Type specimen of Drosera loureiroi. Notice how large the plant is. The leaves of this plant appear to be Drosera oblanceolata but the scapes are too long with too many flowers and the calyx has glandular hairs like Drosera spatulata. Compare the photos of the live flowers below to see the differences. That would indicate the plant is a hybrid between Drosera oblanceolata and Drosera spatulata although not a simple first generation hybrid. The upper image is a composite made from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh E00369065. The lower images are closeups of the plant on the left. Original image © Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.


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


Drosera oblanceolata

Drosera oblanceolata from Lantau Island, Hong Kong.


Drosera oblanceolata x spatulata

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



Drosera ultramafica x spatulata

Drosera ultramafica x spatulata. Hybrid produced in cultivation.


Drosera tokaiensis x rotundifolia

Drosera tokaiensis x rotundifolia. Hybrid produced in cultivation.



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.


Drosera tokaiensis, Japan.