In celebration of National Wildlife Day, the focus tends to fall on the fauna in the wild around us, but we would like to highlight a member of the dynamic flora that calls the Cape Fear Region Home. The Venus flytrap, indigenous nowhere else on the planet but within a one-hundred-mile radius of Wilmington, NC, is arguably the most famous of our local celebrities.
Dubbed “one of the most wonderful plants in the world” by Charles Darwin, the most renowned naturalist of all time, the Venus flytrap’s otherworldly visage, its diet of spiders, ants, beetles and other insects, and its beartrap-like mechanism for ensnaring prey have baffled and delighted botanists and laymen alike for hundreds of years. According to Smithsonian Magazine, even Thomas Jefferson, and Empress Josephine, (wife of Napoleon Bonaparte) cultivated the fascinating species.
Unlike your average plant, which uses its root system to draw necessary nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil, the Venus flytrap prefers poor soil and has evolved to fulfill its nutritional needs via the chemical breakdown of bugs trapped in its jaws.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List names the Venus flytrap as a “vulnerable species.” According to the National Wildlife Federation, “it is also under consideration for federal listing on the U.S. endangered species list.” It is designated by the State of North Carolina as a “species of special concern,” and poaching flytraps in the state is a felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
Venus flytraps can be found in coastal wetland ecosystems of 15 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, and only Horry County in South Carolina. These plants thrive in the high humidity of our region and require the acidity brought to the soil by the fallen needles of our iconic pines.
They also require substantial sunshine, which is not always easy to come by as forest undergrowth shades the diminutive plants. The normal lifecycle of our coastal forests includes periodic fires naturally brought about by lightning strikes--these fires clear the accumulated groundcover form the forest floor and pave the way for flytraps to prosper in the sunshine. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture conducts controlled burns clearing amassed pine needles, brush and other dense vegetation in order to help maintain habitat for this endangered species. To earn more about prescribed burns, check out this video from UNC-TV.
Go and See
Carolina Beach State Park Flytrap Trail—Amble through the pocosin wetlands, longleaf pine forest and wiregrass savanna on a wheelchair-accessible trail through the park. You may even see a carnivorous cousin of the flytrap, the wider-spread pitcher plant which can be found throughout the east coast of the US and Canada.