This week the Venus flytrap is snapping back. Just two years after four thieves were able to uproot and steal over 1,000 plants from the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Garden (the men were charged in January 2015), the fifth annual Flytrap Frolic, put on by the NC Coastal Land Trust, will show people just how resilient these endangered plants can be on Saturday, April 25. As spring takes hold of Wilmington and sweeps the cold weather behind us, the carnivorous garden will be a sight as the flytrap’s flowers bloom into a white blanket over the boggy soil.
“There were lots of very small flytraps left after the robbery,” Beth Steelman, development associate at the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, says. “All these plants were really the foundation for renewing the garden. But many of the plants at the garden today were purchased from a reputable source and replanted where the others had been stolen.”
The Venus flytrap is native to North and South Carolina’s unique, swampy bogs and only grows in a 100-mile radius of Wilmington. With excessive poaching and natural habitat loss, the plant is creeping its way toward extinction. Due to a new law sponsored by legislator Ted Davis, poaching plants like the Venus flytrap is now a felony. Before, poachers were only forced to pay between $10 and $50 for every plant they took and were faced with few, if any, days in jail.
“You could get away with stealing one of these plants with just a simple slap on the wrist [before],” Steelman explains. “But these thieves will think twice about stealing a plant now that they could face up to 25 months in prison.”
The NC Coastal Land Trust partners with landowners to conserve areas with scenic, recreational, historical, and ecological value. In a conservation agreement with the United States military, the Coastal Land Trust was chosen to protect buffer areas around Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point. Many of the over 7,000 acres preserved around the two bases are full of longleaf pines and endangered species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker. The agreement deters construction companies from destroying the land to develop subdivisions and industrial sites.
“We don’t want to see this land turned into a concrete jungle,” Steelman says. “I think a lot of people feel the same way and that’s why they support what we do. In our first 20 years, we saved more than 62,000 acres of land.”
Much of the land protected by the Coastal Land Trust is donated by people who would cringe to see it ravaged by deforestation and littered with subdivisions. Many acres also are purchased from landowners looking to keep their land the way it is. They have save beaches that become state parks, streams that provide clean water, forests that are havens for wildlife, working farms that provide local food, and beautiful nature parks for everyone to enjoy.
“I’m really a case-and-point subject for the land trust,” Steelman tells. “My family owned 300 acres here. When it was left to my brother and I, we didn’t want it becoming just another subdivision. That’s when we found the Coastal Land Trust and turned it into protected land.”
The organization’s Flytrap Frolic started five years ago when Dianna Corbett, a former board member, had the idea to put together a free and educational event open to the public. The frolic and its garden of carnivorous plants were a success, and soon companies like Whole Foods were joining the cause. This year Whole Foods will celebrate the Flytrap Frolic the night before with a “Wine Not…It’s Friday” wine tasting; all proceeds will benefit Coastal Land Trust.
Flytrap Brewing Company, named after the native insectivorous plant, has been a proud supporter of the event for three years now. Last year they honored Stanley Rehder—known as “The Flytrap Man”—by rolling out a new Rehder’s Red Ale at the frolic.
“Flytrap actually came to us looking to support the event,” Steelman says. “They do a lot of good raising awareness for the preservation of the Venus flytrap.”
This year the frolic has been designated as an official event of the NC Science Festival, which hosts hundreds of statewide hapenings from April 10 through the 26. Being recognized by the festival is a big step in safeguarding the state’s rare plant life, spreading the roots of preservation awareness beyond our city limits. Students from UNCW’s biology program will be conducting tours of the garden, making sure to warn against touching (the plants are fragile, and touching them wastes their energy and could cause them to die).
Among them will be pitcher plants, which use sweet-smelling nectar to lure unsuspecting insects into their cup-shaped leaves before digesting them. They grow mostly in bright shades of green, red and purple, and some contain an umbrella-like leaf over the pitcher to prevent rain from filling up and drowning the flower.
Another species of the garden is the sundew. Encompassing one of the biggest varieties of carnivorous plants, the sundew grows in all shapes, sizes, and colors and gets its name from the dew-looking nectar that hangs from the plant’s many tiny tentacles. Just like the pitcher plant, the sundew lure insects in for the kill.
Kids looking to explore the garden will be given a flytrap passport to mark as they find each of the carnivorous plants. The marks will be tallied up at the end o for a chance to win prizes, like gift certificates and corn-hole boards.
“We’ve really expanded our list of activities this year,” Steelman says. “We have a flytrap game for the kids to catch flies (a.k.a. little black pompoms) with flytrap puppets, and interactive ‘touch box’ activities designed to emulate how plants, such as the Venus flytrap, butterwort (which is not found in the garden), pitcher plant, and sundew, lure insects.”
Student volunteers from UNCW will be offering face-painting throughout the event. Live snakes from the Halyburton Park and birds from the Cape Fear Raptor Center will make an appearance at the Flytrap Frolic, too.
The fifth annual Flytrap Frolic
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, 3800 Canterbury Rd.
Saturday, April 25, 9 a.m.