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Venus fly traps at risk: why anyone's favorite carnivorous houseplant is threatened



On certain quiet days in North Carolina's Green Swamp Preserve, the chirping of birds and insects gives way to crackling. Blue-gray swathes of smoke spread in the air, and the ground, densely covered with tall grass and woody shrubs, turns black under a uniform flame wave. Among the tallest vegetation caught in the blaze are some unusual-looking plants that grow in the undergrowth: Venus fly traps, which are only a few centimeters in size and whose needle-shaped "mouths" tower into the sky.

It only takes a moment A team of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission officials watch the whole scene unfold. They are not there to extinguish the fire ̵

1; instead, they foment it by scooping the grass with hand-held drop flares [PDF]. When the wilderness area in front of them is completely charred, let them relax: their work is done. These prescribed burns, which replace the previously natural fires and restore the conditions under which the plants originally developed, are crucial to the wellbeing of the venus flytrap.

Choosing such distances may seem strange when looking for a Venus Flytrap to decorate your dorm's windowsill or fight a fly infestation can easily be found: it is priced at less than $ 6 per pot in major hardware stores and available for $ 10 to $ 30 in independent plant businesses. In the wild, however, the plant can only be found in one location: in a 75 square mile area in North and South Carolina. That makes up less than a third of the historical distribution area of ​​the species. From 4 million in the 1970s, only 302,000 Venus fly traps are available.

Faced with this decline, scientists have filed a petition to include the plant in the list of endangered species. And though prescribed burns aid the survival of the Venus Flytrap, they are not sufficient to warrant . Not if the plants are also threatened by land development, climate change and poachers.

Many of the greatest heads of history were captured by the Venus Flytrap. Thomas Jefferson made several attempts to acquire the seeds, and finally planted them in 1804 in a pot. But the plants are fussy: Venus fly traps thrive in habitats with moist, nutrient-poor soil and lots of sunlight. The marshy coastal plains of the Karolines have exactly the ground traps that one needs, and without the marshy conditions of the coast of Karolina, Jefferson's fly-traps will probably never rise above the ground. Seventy-one years later, in his book Insectivorous Plants the naturalist Charles Darwin described the flora as follows: "This plant, commonly referred to as a venus flytrap, is one of the most beautiful of the plants due to the speed and power of its movements World. "

You Attract You do not have to dive into the botanical world to understand the attraction of the flytrap. The carnivorous plant is different from a fern or succulents. it moves and interacts with its environment, placing it in a special category between plant and pet. It rests with open leaf blades and perfumes the air with a sweet nectar that attracts insects. The inside of the trap contains six short, bristle-like hairs that are sensitive to movement. If the prey disturbs two of these hairs within a short time – or if it rubs twice against the same hair – the swiveling leaf blades will be triggered. The tooth-like cilia, which cut the jaws, interlock and entangle the meal, while sour juices in the trap begin to digest them. The disturbing process has captivated man for centuries.

"I think [carnivorous plants] has a much larger personality than normal plants, even if they are just normal plants," says Josh Brown, owner and operator of San Francisco's Predatory Plants Floss. "Venus fly traps, in particular, are very dynamic, moving faster than any other plant of their size, and people find that very convincing."

The public's fascination with fly traps is driving commercial demand for the plant, but it has not become easier since cultivating Jefferson's life from seed. For most of history, the easiest way to preserve them was poaching.

In 1956, North Carolina passed laws granting state protection to the Venus Flytrap. But even with its protected status, it was legal to gather the plants in special circumstances in the wild. If someone had a permit and permission from the landowner, he could get private-owned fly-traps. Some plant vendors have taken this path, others have skipped the legal process and have just run with a shovel and a bucket on the ground. On the occasion of being caught, the punishment was a small fine.

In 1981, there was a breakthrough that would end the poaching of the Venus flytrap forever. William Carroll, part of the University of North Carolina's Botanical Department, has cloned Venus fly traps in his lab for the first time to reduce poachers' pressure. It was nothing but trying to breed fly traps in a home garden. The sample flourished in a sterile Petri dish.

"You can just take a piece of venus flytrap and put it in an agar solution that is made from algae and contains some nutrients that grow after a short while," says Brown. Some plants are burdened with pathogens that contaminate the tissue culture and impair healthy cell growth. This makes the rearing difficult in a sterile laboratory. Venus fly traps do not have this problem, and in the age of cloning, sellers with single-leaf leaves can multiply unlimited venus fly traps for a few cents apiece.

For entrepreneurs involved in the Venus Fly Trap market, cloning was an amazing success. But it did not stop the poachers.

On November 1, 2015, two men emerged exhausted from the tall grass of Orton Plantation in North Carolina. They were encircled by police, and after wallowing a few times across the field, Scottie Stevenson (44) and David Lewis (23) stopped running and accepted all the punishment awaiting them. With raised hands, they went to the authorities and asked for a bottle of water.

At this point it was not clear what the couple was guilty of. Law enforcement agencies had been called to investigate a burglary complaint, but the way the men fled on their arrival suggested that the crime was more serious. A police dog took less than 10 minutes to pinpoint the cause of their panic: in the grass was a backpack filled with 1025 Venus fly traps, along with the machete harvesting them.

Stevenson and Lewis were among the first defendants violating a 2014 law to protect Venus fly traps. In the 1950s, before the new legislation, Venus fly traps had been protected by state law and not much else. Even if poachers hauled hundreds of them out of the state – as did many in the 1990s and 2000s – the toughest punishment they could expect was a $ 50 fine on December 1, 2014. That means that Poaching a single plant can now send someone to prison for months – and every stolen plant is treated as an additional offense.

After Stevenson and Lewis were arrested, they were held for $ 1 million, an amount normally reserved for murder suspects. They were eventually charged and convicted of a criminal offense. More recently, in March 2019, a poacher was charged with 216 offenses – one for each Venus flytrap taken from the Green Swamp Preserve.

It is too early to say whether the law represents an effective deterrent to poachers, but conservationists doubt their doubts. "I think some of the poachers are unaware that it is a crime to poach venus fly traps in most of the counties of North Carolina where they occur," says Johnny Randall, director of conservation at the North Carolina Botanical Garden at Chapel Hill , opposite Mental Floss.

Fly-trap poachers are usually locals, often from families who have been collecting the plants for generations. "An ordinary person would not walk through a damp pine savanna or the areas where these Venus fly traps occur," says Randall. "There are Canebrake rattlesnakes, lots of biting insects, it's not for the faint of heart to go to those areas, the poachers are people who grew up in such an environment, so they know them."

Poachers usually enter Areas where venus fly traps with machetes and pillowcases grow, and Randall says a person can harvest 500 crops in an hour – a single robbery can do a lot of damage to local fly-trap populations, and Randall: "The poor guys who get 0.25 Dollars are paid per plant, only trying to make a living in economically disadvantaged areas of North Carolina, and although they break the law, they are not the true evil of these poachers. "

So, who are the evil? Experts suspect That these local poachers in most cases do the dirty work for larger buyers and only a fraction of the Ge despite the availability of the facility, it is not clear what forces are driving the Venus flytrap black market. [19659011] Conservationists have their theories. Randall refers to pharmaceutical manufacturers that use venus fly-trap extract for the manufacture of dietary supplements, and cites specifically the German company Carnivora. The Carnivora website claims that the plant has immune-enhancing properties, and the label calls it "the original natural discovery from Europe." However, in an email to Mental Floss, the company says it does not use wild plants to make its product: "We have our own manufacturing facility here in the US, and our manufacturing process means that no wild-flora plants are used."

Don Waller, conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suspects that rare plant collectors overseas are behind many wildlife crimes. Although identical to plants bred in laboratories, wild Venus fly traps may be more valuable to certain buyers. "Interestingly, European collectors love a wild, collected plant," he says. "They are ready to search the dark internet for these poached plants, which for some reason consider them better than commercially propagated plants."

While potentially devastating to the populations of Venus flytrap, poaching is not the major cause of the species decline. Conservationists agree that other environmental issues such as habitat loss pose a greater threat – and lack of fire.

The Wilmington, North Carolina region, which is at the center of the Venus flytrap, has undergone rapid development in recent years. Many of the humid savannahs, once inhabited by lively fly-traps, have been replaced by golf courses and shopping centers. "Today's populations are smaller than they used to be and more often separated from one another by roads or inhospitable habitats," says Waller. "Every time you fragment a population, it becomes more susceptible to local extinction." [19659002] The House of Venus Flytrap is no longer the safe environment it used to be, which means it's not enough just to replenish the swamps with flytrap clones to feed on wild populations. However, the biggest problem for the species, according to conservationists, is the fire. The plant's habitat is technically a swamp, but after a few days of baking in the sun, the sandy soil becomes dry enough to support forest fires. Regular flames are critical to this ecosystem and to ecosystems around the world: they eliminate debris and leave empty, fertile land to support the growth of new plants.

For centuries, when a flash of light or the heat of the sun sparkled. A fire in the forest, the flame burned, until it naturally erupted. In some parts of the continent, Indians have even lit their own controlled burns to manage the land. This changed when the first European colonists arrived in North America. Forest fires were destructive forces that needed to be contained, and although firefighting saved lives and property in many cases, it also disrupted the natural cycle of the environment. Venus fly traps were among the species most affected by the practice. As humans began to extinguish natural fires in the Carolina area without being able to spread, larger shrubs allowed the ankle-high plants to thrive and suffocate.

But even in nature reserves that cause controlled burns, the future of the species is uncertain. As climate change raises global sea levels, floods become more common and lowland fl ow levels plunge directly into the danger zone.

"A large part of its population could even be at risk one or two meters above sea level," says Waller. Rising temperatures could soon make their current habitat inhospitable: "These guys need to move north to adapt to their current climatic environment, and it's not easy for them to move if their populations are smaller and isolated from each other." he adds.

Unlike most species, fly-traps can not flee from immediate threats. Fortunately, conservationists are developing creative solutions to save them.

The venus flytrap may be vulnerable. but it is not doomed to failure. The establishment of further nature reserves such as the Green Swamp represents a possibility to protect the habitat of the fly trap from future development projects. In the Green Swamp Preserve it is normal to set the ground on fire regularly. After determining where the incineration will take place, officials will select a day with the perfect weather conditions (not too windy, not too dry) to light the monitored flame. The fly traps burn with the rest of the shrubbery, but when the next generation emerges from the ground, they can thrive without having to compete with the thick, unruly brush for sunlight.

According to Wallers, one of the most effective ways to ensure species survival is to protect the state. He is one of the scientists at the head of the movement, which has included Venus fly traps in the list of endangered species. In 2016, he launched a petition to recognize the species and launched an online campaign to promote the cause.

It's not the first time scientists have attempted to protect the plant: it was considered for listing in the early 1990s and rejected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for lack of evidence. But the scientists hope that this time something will be different. "Since the 1990s, when the fish and wildlife service considered listing, this value has declined rapidly," explains Waller, calling for protection of the law on endangered species.

According to the law, species are considered endangered if they are threatened with extinction in their entire natural habitat or much of it. The fish and wildlife service is currently testing the protection of the Venus flytrap for the second time. When it comes on the list, the federal government must identify the critical habitats for the species and extend the special management and protection to these areas. This could mean financing existing nature reserves, funding the creation of new nature reserves in endangered fly-trap habitats, and stopping any federal activity that could harm species.

It is being researched whether the plant is suitable. "We are currently working with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program to conduct a status survey, meaning they are trying to re-visit as many populations as possible during this growing season and the next growing season. […] After receiving the results from This two-year study in which we begin to evaluate the data and try to make a decision about what to do with the species. "

The success of the species in the market, however, could be a stumbling block. "There are people who do not think that the plant should be considered endangered, either because they think the plants are doing well, which they are not, or because they find that a large number of these plants being raised in captivity, "says Waller. "And if you can buy a plant at your local hardware store or nursery, what business does it have on the list of endangered species?"

In fact, the Venus Flytrap must be added to the list of endangered species be handled carefully. Listing a common houseplant has potential drawbacks: If conservation laws do not differentiate between laboratory-enhanced Venus fly traps and wild plants, some people in the carnivorous plant business are worried that they might lose their livelihood.

"If it were made illegal in the US, it would probably be wiped out in the wild as it would greatly increase the black market value," says Joel Garner, who runs the online shop "Joel's Carnivorous Plants" Mental floss. "The Venus Flytrap is one of the most widely-produced plants in the US, so you're closing a pretty big market if you make it illegal." It would be a kind of situation where good intentions would do exactly the opposite thing that you wanted to achieve. "

An endangered term for the species, however, would not automatically kill the industry. Pitcher Plants – another carnivorous plant that's popular with shoppers – are extremely vulnerable, but stores can sell them as long as they prove they're in a lab or lab Despite these provisions, sellers of Venus fly-traps might be skeptical of the bureaucracy they need to navigate to.

Waller is aware of this possibility and has already suggested possible solutions in an article published in the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter [PDF] was released, Waller and co-author Thomas Gibson encourage commercial producers and government agencies to work together to create a habitat protection plan before new laws are passed.

The plan they propose has a negative impact on efforts Protection of the Venus flyw all in recent times of t decades – its commercial popularity – and makes it a strength. Adding a $ 0.25 to $ 0.50 mark to each plant sold would allow sellers to earn revenue to fund preservation efforts. The paper estimates that such a program could generate millions of dollars annually for the purchase of new fly-trap habitats and conservation of existing protected areas. And it would bring with it an added bonus: each pot would have a label that tells shoppers that their purchase helps to protect wild species, and that people who are most likely to be interested in the problem are aware of the problem power.

"The public is very excited about Venus fly traps," says Waller. "They buy them in large numbers, sometimes kill them, and feed them with insects in the meantime. What a remarkable plant. "


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