Poached venus flytraps replanted in North Carolina

Poachers using a butcher knife pried the rare Venus flytraps from the sandy soil of the Green Swamp Preserve one hot day last August. On Tuesday, nurturing hands using gardening spades returned the confiscated carnivorous plants to their native coastal soil.

A dozen volunteers with the Nature Conservancy, which manages the 16,000-acre ecological preserve in Brunswick County, North Carolina, replanted more than 900 Venus flytraps and 500 purple pitcher plants that had been seized from poachers. The replanting among the long-leaf pines was an effort to maintain populations of the plants in the wild.

"Anything you can put back as natural is good, especially something as odd as these carnivorous plants," said volunteer replanter Thad Valentine of Raleigh.

Science-fiction writers might have dreamed up the Venus flytrap if the macabre plant didn't grow naturally. The tiny plants, one or two inches tall, have toothy green leaves that trap unsuspecting insects by clamping shut. The insects provide nutrition to supplement what the plants derive from the poor sandy soil in which they grow.

Flytraps occur naturally only in a small area of coastal North and South Carolina within 90 miles of Wilmington. They prefer sandy wet soil in areas frequently disturbed by fire – which keeps shrubs and underbrush from growing up and blocking the sunlight. That makes the pine forests of the Green Swamp Preserve the heart of Venus flytrap country.

And that, in turn, makes the preserve a popular hunting ground for poachers who sell the plants at flea markets and traffic them internationally.

Poaching, combined with habitat loss from coastal development, is causing a decline in wild populations of the flytraps.

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