NC’s carnivorous native plant not disappearing yet
Published 4:28 pm Friday, August 25, 2023
As a kid, I remember being fascinated by Venus flytraps.
Their distinctive leaves are hard to forget, featuring spikes along the edges reminiscent of a menacing row of teeth. And those leaves don’t just move with the breeze. They’re positioned just right so that they can snap together like a bear trap if some unsuspecting bug makes its way into the plant.
Perhaps I just have a particular interest with spiky-leaf plants in general. Holly bushes, of course, are also a bit prickly! But the Venus flytraps are noteworthy for their “carnivorous” nature. The plant gets nutrients from digesting any insects or spiders that get caught in their trap. It usually takes them about 10 days to finish their meal, then they open up again to wait for the next snack.
That’s not something you often think about plants being able to do (unless, of course, you’re watching “Little Shop of Horrors”).
While there are other carnivorous plants in existence, I’ve always thought Venus flytraps were the best because they’re native to North Carolina, particularly in the southeastern coastal region of the state. I’ve never had the opportunity to see one in the wild yet, but I definitely remember seeing a few as a part of the habitat at the NC Zoo, and I have a vague memory of one of my schoolteachers who brought in a tiny potted Venus flytrap once for the class to examine.
I have read that Carolina Beach State Park is actually one of the best places to go if you want to try to spot some wild Venus flytraps. They even have a “Flytrap Trail” for visitors to walk through at their leisure. (One can hope that mosquitos fall prey to the plants, which would be good news for the hikers passing through.)
In 2016, a group of individuals requested that the Venus flytrap (scientific name: Dionaea muscipula) be added to the Endangered Species List.
Once that request was made, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had to determine if that’s warranted under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Along with other considerations, they look at factors such as the threatened destruction of habitat, the overutilization for various purposes, disease or predation, the inadequacy of existing regulations, and other natural or manmade factors that may affect the species’ continued existence.
After all that time and effort, the USFWS finally announced last month that they will not be adding the Venus flytrap to their list of endangered species.
“Habitat protection and management, abundant partner involvement, academic research and data from a new status survey helped inform these findings,” said Mike Oetker, Acting Regional Director for the Southeast Region, in a USFWS press release. “With 98 percent of the known Venus flytrap plants occurring in healthy populations, projections indicate it can thrive under current conditions well into the future.”
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can step out your front door and accidentally stumble across a bunch of Venus flytraps. The wild population is still quite small when compared to other species, and they’re really only able to live in wetland areas. It’s actually a state felony to poach a Venus flytrap, so if you do see one in the wild, you can’t pick it and take it home for yourself. (Even if the plant might be a more fun way to rid your home of unwanted bugs than a plain old flyswatter!)
I did some further reading into the USFWS findings just because I was curious about the Endangered Species decision. Here are a few more interesting things I learned about the North Carolina plant:
Historically, the range of the plant is approximately 100 miles around – and including – Wilmington. Most of them are found in the Outer Coastal Plain, but there are also smaller populations of Venus flytraps in the Inner Coastal Plain and Sandhills regions too. But both of those regions actually make up less than one percent of the plant’s range in the wild.
USFWS estimates that sites which are managed with prescribed fire are likely to support the flytrap populations over time, since the plant is well adapted to fire.
Threats to the Venus flytrap include actions that destroy habitat (such as fire suppression), land conversion to agriculture or development, poaching, and small population size.
But despite these threats, there are indications that the plant is quite resilient. Additionally, the plants in the Outer Coastal Plain habitats are largely located on protected lands that are already managed for conservation. That’s certainly a good sign for future Venus flytrap populations too.
In the Outer Coastal Plain, Venus flytraps can be found in sandy pine savannahs and wet pine flatwoods. But further inland, in the Sandhills, you’ll only be able to spot the plant in seeps between evergreen shrub bogs along small creeks and pine/scrub oak uplands. This is because the plant needs abundant light and moisture as well as moist acidic soils to thrive.
According to what I read, it looks like the USFWS did a thorough investigation before making their decision about the Endangered Species List. It’s nice to learn that the habitats for the Venus flytrap are already being well-managed so there’s no need to enact further regulations. I hope the protection efforts are diligently maintained in the future, so the plant never needs to be added to the list.
The fascinating little bug-eating plant is one of North Carolina’s unique features. Except for a very small portion in South Carolina, you aren’t going to find a Venus flytrap in the wild anywhere else!
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7206.