Carnivorous-Plants

Venus Flytraps Risk Extinction in the Wild at the Hands of Poachers

by: John R. Platt

Earlier this month four men were arrested for poaching on the Holly Shelter Game Land preserve in North Carolina. Their arrest made national headlines, and history, as they became the first people charged with a felony for stealing Venus flytrap plants (Dionaea muscipula) from the wild.

Yes, Venus flytrap poaching is a thing. Not only that, it threatens the existence of this iconic but endangered carnivorous plant in the wild. The four men arrested this month had 970 Venus flytraps in their possession—almost 3 percent of the entire species’s naturally growing population.

Although Venus flytraps appear for sale in greenhouses around the world, they actually have an extremely limited wild range: about 120 kilometers around Wilmington, N.C.—and, even there, they remain rare. The plants grow only in bogs and many of their habitats have been lost to development over the past century. Flytraps disappeared in other locations after fire-suppression techniques protected properties but allowed brush to thrive, starving the plants of the sunlight they needed to flourish. Today Venus flytraps only survive on a handful of sites, all of which are owned by The Nature Conservancy, the North Carolina government or the U.S. military.

Venus flytraps obviously won’t go extinct anytime soon—they’re too popular and too easy to cultivate—but the wild plants can’t survive many more big poaching events like this one. Their loss would not only eliminate one of the most beloved plant species on the planet, it would also be a blow to the North Carolina economy. “We’ve had people from all over the world come here to see flytraps,” Crane says. “If the plants are gone, the tourists are not going to visit.”

(read more) Scientific American Blogs  ||  photo credit: Dan Mele