Save Me, Seymour! Flytraps, Carnivorous Plants Dwindling Across U.S.

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There's something eerily animal-like about venus flytraps — touch the trigger hairs and their maws snap shut around an insect, grinning greedily. It isn't hard to make the imaginative jump from the tiny fly-killers to the giant, man-eating monster Rick Moranis feeds in "Little Shop of Horrors."

Unfortunately, the musical version of the plant is much tougher than its real cousins. Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are only native to a small area that straddles the border between North and South Carolina, and they are falling victim to poachers, habitat destruction, and wildfire suppression. There may be fewer than 40,000 plants left in their native habitat.

Across the country, the story is much the same — pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and a host of other carnivorous plant species are succumbing as humans' impact on their boggy habitats increases.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times describes the meat-eating plants' dire situation. Typically small and low-lying, many species rely on wildfires to keep larger plants from out-competing them for sunlight. But habitats near human development aren't allowed to burn, and researchers have watched over the years as taller plants have grown in and the carnivores have been snuffed out by shade.

What's more, plant collectors in areas across the U.S. snatch flytraps, pitcher plants, and their brethren by the hundreds. Fines for plant trafficking are generally small; hardly enough to deter smugglers on the rare occasion they're caught. In some places, enthusiasts have introduced non-native carnivorous plants to ecosystems where native species are already struggling to survive.

What to do? There seems to be little hope of stopping human encroachment from taking its toll on the plants. But the Times piece ends with an anecdote recounting one researcher's solution to whatever invasives he finds:

In California's Butterfly Valley, (Bary Rice of the University of California, Davis)'s loud "Aha!" rings out in a forest glade. He has spotted a sundew from New Jersey, Drosera hybrida, hiding among its Californian cousins in an inch-deep layer of water. He kneels and plucks it out of the soil. "Carnivorous plant growers will just die at what I'm about to do," he says minutes later, having climbed out of the valley and onto the road. With ceremony, he holds the uprooted alien high in the air, then drops it and grinds it to bits with his heel.

Image: The World Through Athene's Eyes on Flickr

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