Secret World

The carnivorous plants of The Howard Landscape 

We would like to let you know that a wonderful collaboration of local artists has come together to make an exhibition based on this intriguing landscape. We would like to invite you to the launch (Thurs 5th November 6 pm) and floor talk (Thurs 12th November 5.30 pm)

At Nomad Art Gallery, Parap, Darwin.

It is a beautiful dry season morning. We are near the Howard River just half an hour south of Darwin in the Top End of Australia, walking through one of the most intriguing botanical landscapes imaginable.

Underfoot a sea of miniature insectivorous plants flower like small beacons. Our feet make rhythmic squelching sounds as we pick our way across the water-drenched sand plain, eyes cast downward like a flock of water birds gliding over a miniature-waterlogged forest.

The group consists of scientists and artists led by Emma Lupin, Project Officer with Greening Australia and Dr Greg Leach, a botanist with more than 30 years experience in the Top End. The artists included Jasmine Jan, Jacqueline Gribbin, Winsome Jobling, Sarah Pirrie and Karen Mills. 

The Howard sand sheets are right on Darwin’s doorstep and so subtle they are mostly overlooked as one of the Northern Territory’s most valuable and unique environmental hot spots. They are located amid a confusion of bush blocks, junkyards, agricultural plots, sand mining ventures, quad bike tracks and artesian water pumping stations that supply water to greater Darwin. Yet they contain rare and endangered species unique to the planet.

The sand sheets are just that, a deep layer of pure white sand amid savannah scrublands and monsoonal rainforests. Termites, insects and microorganisms dominate the landscape.

The nutrient-poor soil creates a habitat ideal for the proliferation of bladderworts (Utricularia spp.). These carnivorous plants reveal themselves with delicate flowers and stems, but are driven by a submerged engine room made up of minute suction bulbs or bladders that trap insects. Tiny hair like projections at the opening of the bladder are sensitive to the motion of passing organisms. When stimulated these hairs cause the flattened bladder to dramatically inflate, sucking in water and the insect and closing a trap door behind them.

Come with us on a journey into the world of the bladderwort. Shrink yourself down, imagine you are a plant living on a sheet of sand containing no nutrients. Your feet are immersed in water for six months of the year while you are surrounded by microscopic insect life, the other six months you are dry and parched under the searing sun. How do you live and survive? The answer; become an insect devouring design genius of course.

But all is not well in this finely balanced landscape. Sand mining and urban development threaten the specialist habitat in which the bladderwort thrives and survives.

Continued survival of the bladderwort (Utricularia) species relies on human appreciation and consciousness. It is critical that as a society we know and understand the natural environment around us.

These days few people seem able to identify the plant species that surround them. Instead we destroy natural habitats unaware of what they comprise, obliterating what was there before.

Secret World: Carnivorous plants of the Howard sand sheets highlights a unique habitat on the doorstep of Darwin. Through this exhibition we encourage greater community awareness about the beauty and wonder of the environment around us.

Angus Cameron, curator