Healthy populations of Venus flytraps occur in the Green Swamp, along with a total of 14 carnivorous plants and 18 species of orchids.
The Conservancy’s Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County is the same age as the North Carolina Chapter. It was created in 1977 when Federal Paper Board donated 13,850 acres to the Conservancy. Over the years, it has grown to more than 17,000 acres. The Conservancy has also preserved a number of nearby tracts, totaling more than 20,000 acres. Today, that conservation continues with the addition of a 463-acre tract on the east side of the Green Swamp.
Frank Galloway has followed the Green Swamp conservation over the years. He has good reason to do so. “Galloways have been here since 1718,” he says. “We came up from Charleston.” Galloway lives on 1,200 acres near the Green Swamp. His family once owned Cow Island, Little Island and Big Island, all of which are now conserved. “Galloways had cows there, that’s how Cow Island got its name,” he explains.
For more than two centuries, the Galloways made their living in the Green Swamp – raising cattle and tapping the longleaf pine for resin. Galloway can point to old longleaf pines across his property that have the distinctive scarring where they were once tapped for resin.
A century ago longleaf pine in the southeast accounted for more than 70 percent of naval store production; naval store is the term given to tar and turpentine produced from longleaf resin. The word “naval” was used because the resin products were often used on ships as calking or waterproofing. Galloway’s property also contains several old tarkels, or tar kilns, where longleaf wood was burned to draw out the tar.
Today, the Conservancy is working to restore longleaf pine in the Green Swamp. Galloway, who has a degree horticulture and left a job as a cooperative extension agent because he couldn’t stand to be deskbound, is the rare private landowner who is doing similar work. He routinely conducts controlled burning on this property to help out the fire-dependent longleaf pine and other associated species such as wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana), which also need fire to survive and thrive.
“I realized a few years ago that the woods didn’t look like they did when I was a kid,” Galloway explains as he walks through longleaf pine that he is now burning on a regular basis. The forest is beautiful and open and healthy. “Ten years ago, you couldn’t see 30 feet in front of you,” he explains.
“Daddy says when he was a boy this hill was covered in wiregrass,” Galloways says standing on a rise on his farm.
Today, there is little wiregrass in the area, but it was once abundant enough to support cattle farming. “We depended on wiregrass for cows to eat. There wasn’t any Bermuda or fescue then. Everyone burned for the wiregrass. You weren’t burning to protect Venus flytraps or pitcher plants, it was just incidental that it helped them,” he explains.
That need for fire is one reason that the Conservancy’s Southeast Coastal Plain Director Dan Ryan is pleased with the newest acquisition at the Green Swamp. The Conservancy has had problems burning on the eastern edge of the Green Swamp. “This land will allow us to burn out of the Green Swamp up onto this ridge,” Ryan explains, as he walks along the ridge. “There is more an impetus in getting fire into the Green Swamp. Being able to burn out to where you can control your fire lines is essential. We just didn’t have that on the east side of the Green Swamp.”
The tract also includes 100 acres of young longleaf pine and is home to a number of other important species. Prior to its acquisition, the tract was slated for development. “This is probably the highest and driest land that is not yet developed in Brunswick County,” explains Ryan. Brunswick County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the state with its population tripling from 35,777 in 1980 to 108,410 in 2009. Although development has slowed somewhat due to the recent economic downturn, it is likely that this area will soon face increased development pressure as the economy improves.
The latest acquisition is funded by a $450,000 Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG) from the North Carolina Department of Justice. Ryan says that Ducks Unlimited also played a big role in the grant. Originally, Ducks Unlimited received a $150,000 grant for another project in the region. When that project fell through, DU worked to have its grant money transferred to the Conservancy’s Project.
The Green Swamp and surrounding area are special to many people. The healthiest populations of Venus flytraps occur here. In fact, the swamp is home to a total of 14 carnivorous plants and 18 species of orchids. Galloway says that the word swamp may throw a few people off. “A lot of folks come here expecting something like Okefenokee,” he says. “The Green Swamp is not like that.”
Most of the swamp is pocosin or longleaf pine savannas. Pocosin is a Native American word meaning “swamp on a hill.” There is sand in a pocosin, but an organic layer of soil covers that sand, making the pocosin rise above surrounding areas. So, if you come to the Green Swamp expecting swamps you have probably seen in movies or read about in popular books, you will be surprised.
The Green Swamp is the largest of the Conservancy’s Preserves that is open to the public. Ryan hopes to continue growing the preserve in future years; a number of nearby properties are available. “This is a win-win for everybody,” he explains.
NOTE: The Green Swamp Preserve is open year-round, sunup to sundown. A parking area for the Green Swamp Preserve is located 5.5 miles north of Supply on NC 211.
January 17, 2012
Debbie Crane is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.