Venus flytraps in the wild, and in danger

The most famous of carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap, is surprisingly rare in the wild. The plant is only found on the 100-mile-long wet pine savannas on the edge of South and North Carolina. And apparently, there are only 150,000 of them out there. And according to James Luken, a botanist at Coastal Carolina University, that population is in danger from development and poaching, among other threats. From Smithsonian (Wikimedia Commons image):

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In and around North Carolina's Green Swamp, poachers uproot them from protected areas as well as private lands, where they can be harvested only with an owner's permission. The plants have such shallow roots that some poachers dig them up with butcher knives or spoons, often while wearing camouflage and kneepads (the plants grow in such convenient clumps that flytrappers, as they're called, barely have to move). Each pilfered plant sells for about 25 cents. The thieves usually live nearby, though occasionally there's an international connection: customs agents at Baltimore-Washington International Airport once intercepted a suitcase containing 9,000 poached flytraps bound for the Netherlands, where they presumably would have been propagated or sold. The smuggler, a Dutchman, carried paperwork claiming the plants were Christmas ferns…

There have been some victories: last winter, the Nature Conservancy replanted hundreds of confiscated flytraps in North Carolina's Green Swamp Preserve, and the state typically nabs about a dozen flytrappers per year. ("It's one of the most satisfying cases you can make," says Matthew Long of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, who keeps a sharp eye out for hikers with dirty hands.) Gadd and others are pushing for stronger statewide protections that would require collection and propagation permits. Though North Carolina has designated the flytrap as a "species of special concern," the plant doesn't enjoy the federal protections given to species classified as threatened or endangered…

Recently, Luken and other scientists used a GPS device to check on wild flytrap populations that researchers had documented in the 1970s. "Instead of flytraps we'd find golf courses and parking lots," Luken says. "It was the most depressing thing I ever did in my life." Roughly 70 percent of the historic flytrap habitat is gone, they found.

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