I was on the lookout along a narrow trail, squinting under a cloudless sky. The pines stood tall and straight above, but my eyes were turned towards the ground, hoping to spot some very special species hidden among the grasses.
The trouble was I didn’t quite know what I was looking for. My only experience with our target taxa was in novelty shops, and somehow they grew to be quite large specimens. Just as I began to wonder whether we came in the right time of year, my friend spotted one, and pointed it out to me.
Finally, a Venus fly trap! I had been moving too quickly, and looking too high. These plants are incredibly small, best enjoyed with your face just inches from its leaves — a belly plant, as an old colleague of mine once said. It felt as though a veil had been lifted, for from that moment on, it seemed I was surrounded and could spot the plants everywhere.
Pitcher plants, Venus fly traps and sundews live natively in the state of North Carolina, and the Nature Conservancy works to protect these species and the ecosystem in which they live at Green Swamp Preserve on the coastal plain near Wilmington. The preserve is impressively large, with over 17,000 acres, most of which is an ecosystem called pocosin, which is a dense evergreen shrub bog.
Besides living in interesting boggy locations, these plants draw attention for their unusual diet of insects! These plants evolved to consume animals such as beetles because the soils in the bog are relatively nutrient poor. The carnivorous plant that I was least familiar with was the sundew. The ruby red plant’s leaves are covered in stalks with a glistening droplet on the end of each. The droplet is sweet, attracting prey to land on the leaf, which curls in toward the center of the plant to capture, then digest the prey.
We pored over the vegetation seeking these plants, and devoted to each and every plant we discovered great attention and astonishment that these small but mighty beauties could survive in the unwelcoming soils of the pocosin. Green Swamp intrigued my friends and me for many hours, and I look forward to revisiting the preserve in May!