The Venus flytrap, originally named “Dionaea muscipula” by John Ellis in 1769 after its trap-like mouth, has been the North Carolina Carnivorous State Plant since 2005. But its discovery was made more than 250 years ago in 1759 by Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs, one of five royal colonial governors of North Carolina. Gov. Dobbs wrote his English naturalist friend Phil Collison about the “toothy” plant, detailing its distinct eating habits and habitat of growth in Latitude 34.
Indigenous to the southeastern corner of North Carolina, the Venus flytrap is like no other: It survives off of meat-eating nourishment. It secretes sweet-smelling nectar and presents a nice reddish color to lure insects and sometimes even small frogs. Since 2016 the plant has been celebrated in the Carolina Beach State Park’s Venus Flytrap Family Fun Day, which educates visitors about the importance of preserving the Venus flytrap and shows its significance to our coast. Interpreters attend and portray Governor Dobbs and his wife to show firsthand its history.
encore spoke with park ranger Carla Edwards about the celebration, set to take place this weekend.
encore (e): How does Carolina Beach State Park work to preserve carnivorous plants?
Carla Edwards (CE): The park tries to preserve the Venus flytrap (VFT) by educating its visitors, as well as presenting things threatening its habitat and survival. We offer weekly hikes each weekend to show the carnivorous plants that call Carolina Beach State Park home.
Park visitation has increased in recent years, as more people are coming to see the flytraps. It is becoming harder and harder to see the VFT along the trail. Visitors venture off the main trail in search of the plants. It causes problems not only for the VFT but also many other carnivorous plants, like butterworts, sundews and bladderworts. These plants get trampled accidently while searching for the VFT.
People also get off the trails and the established boardwalks to get that “perfect photo,” while unknowingly damaging other plants in the process. Park staff have seen an increased amount of poaching in the park of the carnivorous plants, not only the VFT but purple pitcher plants. The park protects all plants and animals. It is illegal to take anything from the park, but even more so, it is now a felony to remove a VFT from its wild habitat.
In December 2014, the penalty for poaching VFT switched from a misdemeanor to a felony. This helped decrease the poaching problem overall, but there are still people who think it is OK to remove them from the wild. The park is working on efforts to help reduce this problem by installing trail cams in and around the area where carnivorous plants grow, doing more foot patrols in the areas, and arresting anyone found who possesses these plants. We also encourage park visitors to report any suspicious activity they may see while walking in the park.
Rangers take the reports seriously and investigate as soon as possible. Overall, the rangers try to use education about the plants to encourage park visitors to respect them and their habitats, and hopefully pass that knowledge and respect down to their children.
e: How many flytraps are on the grounds exactly? Are there more than the Venus?
CE: There is only one kind of Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) that grows in the wild. Nurseries have created many hybrid varieties of flytraps, but all originated from the one found in the wild. Most all the populations of VFTs growing in the wild, are found on public lands: parks, forest, nature preserves, etc. Very few are found on private property. Development-inducing harvesting or destruction of habitats have destroyed most populations on private property. The historical range of flytraps stretched all the way to the Sanford area down into South Carolina toward Charleston and north as far as the Pamlico River. Their habitat range today is small pockets here and there within a 60-to-70-mile radius around the Wilmington area.
The population at Carolina Beach varies from year to year and is not very large at all. Since 2010 the population has ranged from 800 to 1,200 in VFT surveys conducted each year. Considering how law enforcement caught a single poacher once taking over 1,000 plants out of the Green Swamp area, that is not a lot.
e: What do people learn on the plant hikes, and how will that info be included during the family day event?
CE: The park is a unique place to visit. Within 761 acres in the park, there are 13 different plant communities, making Carolina Beach State Park one of the most biodiverse parks on the east coast of NC. These different plant communities provide great habitat for a variety of plant life, as well as animal life. On the hikes, participants can learn about plant communities, as well as plants and animals that call them home.
During the colder months (November-February), the park places more emphasis on the plant communities, whereas during the growing season (March-October), the carnivorous plants are the main emphasis. People can see most of the plants seen year-round but are very hard to find during the non-growing seasons. The Family Fun Day on Saturday will offer the carnivorous plant hikes several times during the day.
e: Why did you start family fun day?
CE: We started the Flytrap Family Fun Day in honor of the 257th anniversary of Arthur Dobbs’ letter to his England friend. 2016 was also the 100th anniversary of the NC State Park. We wanted to provide several special events for the public that year to help celebrate the park’s anniversary. Flytrap Family Fun Day is just one of three special events we offer each year. The annual Star Party is on Friday, April 12 this year, as well as the park’s annual Marina Day, which celebrates the anniversary of Carolina Beach State Park (Saturday May 11). This year marks the 50th anniversary, so it will be a fun-filled family day but with a more nautical atmosphere.
e: What kinds of games and activities will be provided?
CE: Several games and activities the kids will be able to enjoy include beanbag tossing, where they try to get the beanbag through the hole of the flytrap; launch-a-bug (or duck), wherein they hit a lever with a mallet to launch the big bug into the air to try to have it land inside of a “pitcher plant” tube; fire brigade is where the child would use a backpack water bladder to put out a “fire”; and hopefully we will have more games. We want to provide a face-painting station and a craft station as well. All depends on volunteer support.
e: Will there be any other plants or animals presented for kids’ and adults’ amusement alike during family fun day?
CE: It will be held in the picnic area and that is always a great place to do birding. We may have some flytrap plants in pots for people to look at while they are there.
e: Who will provide crafts and face-painting at the event?
CE: The festival has developed over the past few years. Each year we add something new. The park utilizes volunteers to help run the activity stations as well as the craft stations. Volunteers are a great accent to the park and the staff relies heavily one their help. The park’s support group, Friends of Pleasure Island State Parks, is a great resource for funds to purchase supplies and treats for these events. They also have a few members that help us out with activities. We always are looking for more volunteers. Anyone interested in helping with the Flytrap Family Fun Day or any of our other special events can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.