Venus flytrap
A wild Venus flytrap
Today’s mission: to find a Venus flytrap in its natural habitat. Without a guide. Over our past few days in Wilmington, North Carolina we’d seen them in cultivated bog gardens, at Carolina Beach State Park (with help), and even on the counter at the Dairy Queen. But I’d done my homework and learned The Nature Conservancy had two preserves to the southwest of the city, each devoted to protecting prime habitat for the Venus flytrap, so we knew we’d be hiking today.

Boiling Springs Lakes Preserve trailhead
Boiling Springs Lakes Preserve trailhead

Or at least I knew. When we arrived at the parking area for Boiling Springs Lakes Preserve, it turned out to be a community center and disc golf. Since the map on the kiosk didn’t show a scale or mileages, John thought it best to linger at the trailhead.

Laurel bayhead below the pines
Laurel bayhead below the pines

I’m sure he didn’t expect to wait two hours. Not having a GPS with me – only a phone that could leave breadcrumbs for me – I headed off into the woods following the red diamonds. What surprised me is how much the woods looked like Blackwater River State Forest or Apalachicola National Forest.

Sandhills in North Carolina
Sandhills in North Carolina

Dominated by sandhills and pine flatwoods, they had swamps in swales. These reminded me of the titi swamps of home but these were dense with sweetbay.

Pink sundews
Pink sundews

Every time I saw a social trail I’d wander off track, looking for carnivorous plants. No luck, until I saw a swale with large sundews. I later found a lonely trumpet pitcher plant by a tannic stream.

Trumpet pitcher plant
Trumpet pitcher plant

Fortunately, all streams were bridged. On the loop portion of the trail I saw a bench. Stopping for a drink, I thought “why else put a bench here than to call attention to this spot?” And within a few minutes, I’d found my first Venus flytraps in the wild.

My first wild Venus flytrap find
My first wild Venus flytrap find

Returning through the bright white sand in the heat, I was glad to get back to the trailhead. John was in the shade by a bog garden with Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. He’d had an enjoyable time writing and watching wildlife.

Baby thrush
Baby thrush (John Keatley)

Off we went to the next stop, Green Swamp Preserve. By the number of cars leaving as we arrived, there must have been a guided hike in the morning. Once again, the map had no scale and no mileages. I looked at the time. “I’ll give it an hour,” I said, “but hiking this means we skip Lake Waccamaw.”

Sandy hikes off into the Green Swamp
Sandy hikes off into the Green Swamp (John Keatley)

It turned out to be a wise choice. Within the first ten minutes I saw a red-cockaded woodpecker. A social path near the pocosin led me to a nice collection of bladderworts and sundews.

Bladderworts and sundews
Bladderworts and sundews

Crossing the first pocosin means traversing a rather long and narrow boardwalk with vegetation creeping across it. I certainly wish we had more of these in the titi swamps of the Apalachicola! The insects are quite voracious in the pocosin.

Boardwalk through a pocosin
Boardwalk through a pocosin

Which is perhaps why, on the other side, the pine flatwoods host a bounty of sundews and Venus flytraps. And I do mean a bounty. Hundreds, perhaps thousands. All staking their tiny claims to a sliver of acidic ground.

Venus flytrap ready for a meal
Venus flytrap ready for a meal

The trail continued on into the distance, but this little corner of Shoestring Savanna was good enough for me. We now know that Venus flytraps, that rarest of wild carnivorous plants, are still flourishing in the wild in their own native habitat, thanks to The Nature Conservancy. And that’s a good thing.

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  1. This is so interesting! I never thought about tracking them down and searching for them.