Venus flytrap doing its job
Venus flytrap doing its job

For decades, I’d heard that if you want to see Venus flytraps in the wild, you must go to North Carolina.

Zero that target in a little more tightly. Within 75 miles of Wilmington, you’ll find all of the native Venus flytraps in the world.

Venus flytraps at Carolina Beach State Park
Venus fly-traps at Carolina Beach State Park

What makes this region so special? The North Carolina Coastal Plain is home to the perfect boggy habitats for these unique carnivorous plants and a host of others. Amid a mix of pond pine and longleaf pine, on the edges of pocosin swamps.

We took a walk today at Carolina Beach State Park, one of the easiest places for the public to see carnivorous plants. Guiding us were Chris Helms and Jeff Davis, who truly know their plants – and their park. Although it covers less than 600 acres, the park is home to a robust variety of habitats.

Pine uplands at Carolina Beach State Park
Pine uplands at Carolina Beach State Park (John Keatley)

At the visitor center is a terrarium with Venus flytraps so visitors can get a sense of scale. Unlike the people-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” they are so small that a misstep can squash them.

Carolina Beach visitor center
Demonstration of how a Venus flytrap works

Interpretive displays provide the best background we’ve seen on how carnivorous plants catch their meals. I never knew bladderworts sucked their victims in – I’d always wondered what they used to trap insects. The sticky hairs of butterwort and sundew and the tall pitchers of the pitcher plants are much more obvious, as is the Venus flytrap with its hinged “jaws.”

Game at Carolina beach State Park
John plays a game at the visitor center

The Flytrap Trail is one of the easier hikes in this popular state park, a half mile loop. Along the way, you’ll walk through a variety of habitats nearly identical to those we have in Florida, including healthy sandhills topped with longleaf pine and turkey oak.

Prickly-pear cactus bloom
Prickly-pear cactus bloom (John Keatley)

A boardwalk leads to the edge of a small bog with trumpet pitcher plants, butterworts, and bladderworts.

Trumpet pitcher plants at Carolina Beach State Park
Trumpet pitcher plants (John Keatley)

What’s different is the pocosin swamp, a tannic swamp found in uplands. Not far from its acidic waters, rose pogonia and ladies-tresses bloom this time of year.

Pocosin swamp at Carolina Beach State Park
Pocosin swamp at Carolina Beach State Park

The flytraps are hard to spot, because they’re so small. Their blooms emerge this time of year, which helps draw your eye down to the distinctive “toothed” leaves that catch insects. As we found out, it’s best to go with a guide who knows how and where to spot them.

Venus flytraps at Carolina Beach
Venus flytraps at Carolina Beach (John Keatley)

And that’s why Carolina Beach State Park is the best place to learn about and see this unusual carnivore. From May-Sep, park rangers lead guided carnivorous plant walks every Sat-Sun at 10 am. There’s no charge for the walk, or to visit the park. Blooming will start in the next week or so, so make plans to visit soon!

Learn more about Carolina Beach State Park