Back in 1760, North Carolina Colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs found an unusual plant; it was actually trapping and eating insects. Dobbs described his find in his diary: “The greatest wonder of the vegetable kingdom is a very curious unknown species. Upon touching the leaves, they instantly close like a spring trap. It bears a white flower. To this surprising plant, I have given the name Fly Trap.” A few years later, someone sent a flytrap to Charles Darwin who called it “one of the most wonderful plants in the world.”
The plant came to be known as a Venus flytrap. Its Latin name is Dionaea muscipula, which means: Dionaea is the goddess of love. Muscipula means mousetrap.
The Venus flytrap is one of the most well known plants in the world. It has been the subject of movies and musicals; Audrey the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” is part flytrap.
There is only one species of Venus flytrap and it only occurs in the wild in a very small corner of the world.
The Nature Conservancy is working to preserve this precious habitat. One of our oldest and largest preserves, the 17,424-acre Green Swamp in Brunswick County, is prime habitat. We have also protected habitat in Onslow, Pender and New Hanover counties.
In 2005, the North Carolina Legislature underscored the Venus flytraps position in our natural heritage – naming it the state’s official carnivorous plant.
Insects for Dinner
Plants need nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. But Venus flytraps live in bogs with really poor soil that doesn’t contain many nutrients. Insects do. Eating those insects provides flytraps and other carnivorous plants that are found in the same neighborhoods with essential nutrients.
Flytraps never had a huge natural habitat, since they are only found in the wild in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. Coastal development has destroyed much of that meager habitat. Large swathes of habitat, such as the Green Swamp, have been affected by fire suppression. For most of the last century, all fire was viewed as bad. But, fire is a necessary and natural process that is particularly important for Venus flytraps. Without fire, shrubs take over the forest, shading out the flytraps and other carnivorous plants that thrive on the forest floor. The Nature Conservancy is working to restore that habitat with controlled or prescribed burning – setting fires that mimic nature.
Poachers on the Prowl
The Venus flytrap's fame has also been its undoing. Every year poachers steal flytraps. Although poachers can be prosecuted, that rarely happens. It is hard to catch them, and sometimes people don’t realize just how bad this crime is. But they should. Venus flytraps are arguably North Carolina’s most famous natural legacy. Losing these wonderful plants is a tragedy. You can help stop this illegal behavior by buying flytraps from reputable sources that have cultivated them in greenhouses. If you see someone selling flytraps at a flea market, on the roadside or over the Internet, there is a good chance that they are stolen.