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A provision included in the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014 (Section 52) will bring a stiffer penalty for stealing Venus Flytraps by upgrading the crime from a misdemeanor to a Class H felony, punishable by up to 25 months in prison. A similar penalty is already in place for the theft of the ginseng plant.
The Venus Flytrap is found natively only in coastal plain of North Carolina — specifically within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina — but has been transplanted and grown in places around the world.1
The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant that catches and consumes arachnids and small insects. Its crimson leaves attract insects, and the tiny hairs trigger to close when insects brush against them. The leaves close up rapidly like a trap and then it takes the plant seven to ten days to digest fully the creature.2
The poaching of flytraps has become a problem in the eastern part of the state, where it is found in its natural habitat. This unique and rare plant can fetch up to 30 or 40 dollars each on the black market — sometimes at yard sales or online.
Interest in the illegal sales of the flytrap has grown in recent years.
- More than 1,000 flytraps were stolen in May 2013 from the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington. The stolen plants were valued at $20,000. Since the theft, the Wilmington stepped up security by putting up cameras to monitor the park.
- In September 2013, 10,000 were stolen from Fly Trap Farm at Supply. The value of the stolen flytraps is approximately $65,000.
- Between 200 and 300 flytraps went missing from Boiling Spring Lakes in April 2014. The perpetrators have since been captured and most of the plants recovered.
The protection and preservation of this rare species has been the focus of the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington, named in honor of Stanley Rehder in 2001. Mr. Rehder, who passed away in 2012, was a local horticulturalist who helped create the garden and had become a national spokesman for the flytrap and its preservation in nature.3
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust was created to raise funds to help protect and nurture the plants. The Flytrap Fund was created by the land trust to be used for the propagation and maintenance of the garden, which is home to flytraps and other scarce insectivores, like pitcher plants and sundews.4 The fund will also be used to offer a reward for information that leads to the arrest of the May 2013 perpetrators.5
The natural coastal habitat has been under strain from development and fire suppression efforts. And now poaching is a big problem as well. Lands protected by the Coastal Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy have lost flytraps as a result of poaching.6
The vanishing plants are certainly a loss for North Carolina, but poaching could have worldwide implications. There are as few as 35,000 in the natural habitat, according to the North Carolina History Project. “Why is this the only place in the world the Venus Flytrap grows?” said Dan Sheret, a Cape Fear Community College geology technician. “When a plant is poached, it is a tremendous loss to the world.”
The Venus Flytrap has been given the conservation status of Vulnerable, which is just one step below Endangered. The conservation status of a species indicates whether the species still exists and how likely the species is to become extinct in the near future. A Vulnerable species is one which has been categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. Vulnerability is mainly caused by habitat loss or destruction.7
Speaking of the increasing thefts, Horticulturist Jerry Bell said, “If this doesn’t stop, the future of these rare plants is grim.”
Nature Conservancy Government Relations Director Will Morgan and Coastal Land Trust attorney Meryl Murtagh worked with Rep. Davis and other legislators on the law. “We appreciate Rep. Davis’ persistent effort to shepherd this bill through the legislature, and his willingness to work in cooperation with the state’s conservation community,” said Morgan. “Thanks to his leadership, there will now be greater protection for this ecologically and culturally significant plant.”
The Venus Flytrap became officially protected by legislation in 1956, and the General Assembly made the Venus Flytrap the official State Carnivorous Plant in 2005.
The strange flesh-eating plant was immortalized in popular culture in Roger Corman’s 1960 black comedy film “Little Shop of Horrors.” It was later made into a musical stage play in 1982 and a musical comedy film in 1986.
- North Carolina History Project: “Venus Flytrap”
- Wilmington Tickets: “Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden”
- Port City Daily: “Community support for flytraps converges at carnivorous garden”
- Wilmington Star News: “City ups security at Rehder carnivorous plant garden”
- North Carolina Coastal Land Trust weblog: “Flytraps Gain New Protection”
- Wikipedia: “Venus Fly Trap”