Sunday, November 25, 2012

Carnivore plants of the Green Swamp

It's late afternoon on a summer day in North Carolina's Green Swamp. The unrelenting humidity makes the lush green plants appear to be sweating under the hazy sun.
While a light, warm breeze blows, a tiny fly hovers above the soggy, wet soil in a savanna. Hungry for a late-afternoon snack, the fly is attracted to a small plant that has several bright red "leaves" in pairs, facing each other. Glistening droplets that look like nectar bring the fly even closer. The fly angles hurriedly toward the leaves, prepared for a feast of the sweet, gooey syrup.
 
 photo courtesy of:
Barry Meyers-Rice
The fly lands on a pair of leaves, but in a flash the two leaves clamp together, locked in a tight embrace. Caught in the middle is the incredulous fly that struggles to free itself. That only causes the leaves to squeeze even tighter. After a few minutes, the fly has given up and the plant begins to secrete a moist liquid, as if it is salivating from its fresh catch. The fly's role in the food chain has suddenly changed from hunter to hunted. It's the latest victim of the Venus Flytrap!
The Venus Flytrap is the most popular among a group of plants labeled carnivorous due to the fact they catch and consume animal protein, usually in the form of small insects and spiders. There are literally hundreds of species of carnivorous plants throughout the world.

 photo courtesy of:
Nostalgia Factory
While the sweet smell of nectar or colorful leaf patterns make these plants attractive to insects, people are attracted to them for other reasons. People are intrigued by the irony of carnivorous plants. Plants are supposed to be the meal on the plate, not the consumer of the animal protein! Because of this mystique, these plants have long enjoyed a popular place in American culture, from comic books and Hollywood movies about "man-eating plants," to biology class and plant nurseries. Carnivorous plants rearrange the natural order of nature.
For its exotic and wondrous reputation, people on this side of the world often wrongly assume that carnivorous plants come only from lush tropical islands and Amazon jungles. The general reasoning is that something so odd as a meat-eating plant must come from somewhere far, far away. And in the movies, carnivorous plants are usually shown as living in mysterious jungles.
But, in actuality, the Venus Flytrap, the most famous of all carnivorous plants, does not grow naturally anywhere in the world except southeastern North Carolina and a small part of adjacent South Carolina!
These plants grow in regions throughout North Carolina, but are most commonly found in an area called the Green Swamp, 15,672 acres of nature preserve in the southeastern part of the state. In addition to the Venus Flytrap, there are many other types of carnivorous plants found there. For example, there are four kinds of pitcher plants there, four types of Sundews, three kinds of Butterworts, and eight kinds of aquatic Bladderworts.
Because of this fact, North Carolina is home to some of the leading voices in the field of carnivorous plants. In fact, it was one of North Carolina's first leaders, Governor Arthur Dobbs, who, in 1760, described a plant as "Fly Trap Sensitive." The plant later became known as the Venus Flytrap.
Follow the us as we journey through the world of carnivorous plants. You'll learn where they grow and how they grow. You'll hear from the experts who will explain the role carnivorous plants play in North Carolina's delicate ecosystem. You'll even learn how to cultivate your very own carnivorous plant!

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