Conservationists replant poached Venus flytraps in Green Swamp
Wild Venus flytraps are seen on Nature Conservancy land near Boiling Springs Lakes. The Venus flytraps are marked in the wild. If they turn up for sale, inspectors are able to identify the plants as illegally dug up and removed.
By Ana Ribeiro
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 7:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 10:11 p.m.
A favorite of Charles Darwin and famous all over the world, the Venus’ flytrap is a native of our area. Unsuspecting local bugs land on its comfortable leaves and before they know it, they’re swallowed up.
But these curious carnivorous plants can’t defend themselves from human poachers, who steal hundreds at a time from their natural habitat and sell them to people who may not know how to grow them properly. On Tuesday, about 1,000 poached Venus’ flytraps had a happier day as they returned home to the Green Swamp Preserve.
A group of 15 volunteers and staff members with the Nature Conservancy and the N.C. Botanical Garden replanted the flytraps in the Brunswick County preserve. Poachers had taken them from the area about a year ago, but the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recovered them, said Dan Ryan, a project director with the Nature Conservancy.
Also, about 500 pitcher plants, another carnivorous species, would be replanted later in the day, Ryan said. The type of soil in the Green Swamp is ideal for carnivorous plants because it’s acidic, wet and nutrient-poor, according to Michael Kunz, a conservation ecologist with the N.C. Botanical Garden.
The lack of nutrients has forced the plants to adapt by eating bugs for their nitrogen fix, Kunz said. It’s hard to raise these plants out of their habitat because they need a specific ratio of soil components.
The staff of the botanical garden, part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, rehabilitated the poached plants. The fine for Venus’ flytrap poachers is $35 a plant, Ryan said.
It’s legal to remove and sell the plants only when authorized by the property owner, said Lt. Matthew Long of the wildlife commission. But people take the flytraps from nature preserves, without permission, to sell the popular plants for a quarter apiece, Long said.
It’s hard to estimate how many get stolen, he said. One person told officers he poached the plants for a living.
“Any illegal activity is hard to put a number on,” Long said. “All I can tell you is what we’ve been catching.”
The agency catches about a dozen people a year, he said. The latest was about two weeks ago, and the Nature Conservancy was able to replant about 800 poached flytraps in Boiling Spring Lakes.
Long said the wildlife commission is keeping a close eye on poachers with routine patrols in Brunswick County, and officers being trained to spot their behavior. People may face hundreds of dollars in fines and be arrested, he added.
As part of efforts to catch Venus’ flytrap poachers, ecologists spread a dye that shows up only under black light, enabling them to spot poached plants in garden shops.
They’ll be checking on the Green Swamp’s returning residents to see how they’re faring.
Ana Ribeiro: 343-2327