By: Claire Hood/USFWS
This blog post represents the second post in a series on the illegal poaching of native species in the United States. Check out the first post on California Redwood burl poaching and stayed tuned for a third post in the weeks to come.
A year ago, in May 2013, the head horticulturalist at a North Carolina plant garden arrived at work to find over a thousand holes in the ground.
Photo: Venus flytrap (Mystuart/Creative Commons)
The day before each hole had contained a Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) plant, a rare species of carnivorous plant that grows only in a certain region of North and South Carolina. The poachers had taken nearly 90% of the garden’s Venus flytraps with the intention of selling them illegally for $10 to $40 each. With these prices, the poachers likely pocketed over $20,000 from the sale of these unusual plants.
A year later, poaching of carnivorous plants continues as three people were arrested in April for the illegal harvest of hundreds of Venus flytraps in North Carolina. In fact, poaching of plants has increased over the last three years. While it has been a concern for North Carolina for over 25 years, the illegal harvest of these rare plants has reached epidemic levels as they increase in value and illegal markets flourish.
Photo: Pitcher plant (EW Connor/Creative Commons)
As a carnivorous plant, the Venus flytrap catches insects and spiders in its leaves, which snap shut and trap whatever is inside. The food is then slowly dissolved and absorbed by the plant. Venus flytrap plants are being poached for their novelty as a carnivorous plant that can be grown indoors. Sadly, however, Venus flytraps do not make good houseplants because of their very specific growing and food requirements.
With only an estimated 35,000 plants in the wild, large-scale poaching of Venus flytraps presents a serious threat to the species’ survival. Legal consequences are paltry for plant poachers; in North Carolina poachers face a misdemeanor and small fine. However, the recent surge in Venus flytrap theft has led local lawmakers to work on enacting stronger laws to protect the species and prosecute poachers. A North Carolina representative is working to pass a bill to make poaching of Venus flytrap plants a felony. Towns near the remaining wild plants have also sprung to action; school groups have organized mass replantings, and locals are working to raise money for Venus flytrap conservation. While poaching is a serious threat to this species, these local efforts give hope that communities will rally together to ensure the species’ long term survival.
Photo: Sundews (Blue Ridge Kitties/Creative Commons)
The Venus flytrap is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates the international trade of animal and plant species and ensure that this trade is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations. In addition, several other species of carnivorous plants are protected under the Endangered Species Act and also listed in the Appendices of CITES. For more information on carnivorous plants in the United States, see the Botanical Society of America’s Carnivorous and Insectivorous Plants pages.