The Green Swamp ... Venus Flytraps
An interview with Skip Pudney
Joe Kegley | Skip Pudney : E-Mail | Posted 02-26-2013
Venus Flytrap and environment - Skip Pudney
Considered by some the creme de la creme of carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap has fueled the imagination of writers, the desire of collectors, and the fascination of botanists for years. As a child I remember the ads in comic books for flesh eating plants. As an adult I've enjoyed learning bits and pieces about the species through various nature publications. And recently my interest peaked after discovering how difficult it is to find the plant in its native environment.
I've got to say the Venus Flytrap is not an easy plant to find in the wild. I've been able to find scraggly looking specimens on my own but the best examples of the Venus flytrap I've come across were always because Skip Pudney told me where to look. And those healthiest specimens were always in a different place each year.
Skip is a resident of Brunswick County, NC and is an avid nature photographer. He's been photographing the native orchids and carnivorous plants in the area, including the Green Swamp, for several years. What follows is an interview with Skip about Venus flytraps and the Green Swamp.
I understand the Venus flytrap has a limited range in the US; can you elaborate on the range of the species Skip?
Depending on who you ask, the range is between 50 and 100 miles from Wilmington, NC. They've been found in northern-coastal SC so, a 75 mile radius is probably a fair estimate.
What kind of environment can we expect to find the Venus flytrap growing in?
The environment is pretty specialized. The soil has to be acidic and generally sandy. They are found where the water table is close to the surface and, if the soil is peaty, it has a sandy subsurface. Usually, the soil is nutrient-poor but I don't know if that's a requirement for the flytrap or it's the fact that they can thrive where other plants falter.
Venus Flytrap with Prey - Skip Pudney
Venus Flytrap - Skip Pudney
Being a nature photographer myself, what kind of environment/habitat would I look for if I wanted to find Venus flytraps in the Green Swamp Preserve?
The Nature Conservancy conducts prescribed burning periodically and this offers a big advantage for finding flytraps. Burned areas reduce competition from other plants and make flytraps easier to find. Oftentimes, the flytraps are there, but hidden beneath the wiregrass that commonly covers the ground. A burn will reduce the wiregrass to 'clumps' and create open areas that make the flytraps much easier to locate and photograph. Low areas that don't have standing water are excellent places to search. Pitcher plants like the same areas. If you find pitcher plants growing, it's a good place to start looking around for Venus Flytraps.
That explains a lot about my past experiences in the Green Swamp. Venus flytraps were most prolific and healthiest in the longleaf pine/wiregrass savannas of the Green Swamp that were burned the winter before. In addition, those locations also had a few large Trumpet pitcher plants that were easily visible above the wiregrass.
How important is fire to the Venus flytraps livelihood?
It's not just important, it's critical to their well being. Often, the flytraps are there, below the wiregrass and other competing plants but only after a fire can they thrive. Fire opens up the swamp floor and also provides nutrients for the plants.
From your experience in the Green Swamp, when do Venus flytraps flower and when do they seed?
I use Memorial Day as a general guide for finding them flowering. They can flower into mid-June. After the petals of flowers have fallen off, the stalk will ripen and go to seed. The seeds will fall off in the July-August time frame.
Venus Flytraps and Flowers - Skip Pudney
Venus Flytrap growing in burned area - Skip Pudney
Venus Flytrap Flower - Skip Pudney
Venus Flytrap Seed Pod - Skip Pudney
What is your favorite time of year to photograph Venus flytraps?
When they are flowering or a little before. The flytraps are fresher then.
What kind of food (insects) do Venus flytraps trap in the Green Swamp?
Aside from their namesake, basically anything that causes the trap to close. Dragonflies can be found caught in the flytraps grip sometimes. The flytraps don't have a mechanism that lets them decide what to trap and what to ignore. Interestingly, the 'trap' part of the flytrap is simply a highly evolved leaf of the plant.
What triggers the trap to close?
This is an interesting question. The traps generally have three hair-like sensors on each side. Two of these sensors must be disturbed for the trap to spring. This helps prevent false trips due to raindrops or other non-prey events. Plants do not have muscles so the actual way a trap closes is still poorly understood. The most common theory is that the plant rapidly moves liquid from one location to another within the plant causing the trap to close. Studies have shown that a flytrap can operate only four to six times before that particular trap is spent. The flytraps don't need a bug diet to survive; they can sustain themselves from nutrients in the soil. For them to be healthy and thrive though, they need the addition of meat (bugs) in their diet. I look at bugs as 'vitamins' for the plants understood.
Why do some of the Venus flytrap plants have that rich red coloration on the inside of the trap?
It's another aspect of these plants that isn't clearly understood. There are plenty of theories but I haven't read anything definitive. Mature plants can be green to deep red and any variation in between.
Fly caught in Venus Flytrap - Skip Pudney
Closed Venus Flytrap with Prey - Skip Pudne
Is poaching a problem with Venus flytraps?
It is and it's very frustrating. It's a misdemeanor to poach and possess flytraps so the current laws are not much of a deterrent. The Nature Conservancy and some government agencies monitor areas for poaching but it's difficult to catch perpetrators in the act. A sad aspect of the poached plants is that very few will survive.
Do they ever recover Venus flytraps that have been poached? What do they do with the stolen plants?
They do recover some of the poached plants from time to time. Where it's feasible, they are replanted. The mortality rate of these replanted flytraps is very high though...well over 50% in many cases.
If I see a Venus flytrap for sell was it poached? Or do some reputable businesses grow/breed them?
It's not easy to know if it was poached or legally cultivated. It's not illegal to harvest flytraps on private property (with the property owner's permission, of course) and sell them. Some flytraps on public land have been 'salted' with a glue/fluorescence concoction that will glow under black light. It's one way officials can check plants to see if they were obtained illegally. Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, NC has a program where they use micro-propagation to clone and grow flytraps. Hundreds of flytraps can be grown from a single tissue culture!
Is there any specific etiquette I should observe when visiting the Green Swamp in NC?
Stay on the established trails where ever possible. In some areas there are no trails so at that point, you need to generate as little impact as possible. Don't dig – anything – and keep an eye on where you are stepping. There have been plenty of times when I've walked away from a photo opportunity just because I couldn't find a way to make a photograph without causing too much damage.
How should one prepare for a visit to the Green Swamp? Are biting insects a problem? What about weather/temperature?
Long pants and long sleeve shirts are helpful with the bugs. In addition to mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers can be a problem. Many people tuck the legs of their pants into their socks (or tape them) to keep the biters at bay. Insect spray with DEET is effective. The temperature in the swamp can be deceptive. Even though it may be only in the 80's, extremely high humidity will quickly sap ones strength and can cause heat-related illness. Carry plenty of water. More than you think you will need. Incidentally, putting clear nail polish on a chigger bite is an old wives tale and won't do a thing for the itching. The theory was that the chiggers burrowed under the hosts' skin and laid eggs. The nail polish was supposed to 'smother' the chiggers. It's simply not true.
Is there anything I left out that you would like to say about the Venus flytrap and/or the Green Swamp?
The Green Swamp is a special place. Even though the name 'Swamp' congers images of a place full of cypress trees and black water, that isn't the case with the Green Swamp. There are certainly areas what would fit that description but the majority of the areas are open Longleaf Pine savanna. If not for the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, it's likely that few people would be able to enjoy the many plants and animals that call this unique area home. In addition to the flytrap, there are at least five other carnivorous plants that inhabit the area. As tempting as it may be, leave the flytraps...and other plants for others to enjoy.
Location and Points of Interest
Green Swamp Preserve (Google interactive map)
left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions
Skip Pudney is an avid nature photographer and conservationist. He and his family live in Brunswick County located in southeastern North Carolina, near Wilmington. Brunswick County is one of the fastest growing counties in the US and habitat loss is a real threat.. Skip often visits and photographs the Green Swamp and other local areas in the county in effort to capture their beauty. He shares his images in an effort to educate others about these fragile ecosystems as they become more threatened.
To view more of Skip's adventures visit: Skip Pudney - www.flickr.com/photos/skipp35
Venus Flytraps of the Green Swamp Preserve ... a nature, wildlife, and photography perspective.