The Venus flytrap is likely the most popular and well-known (as well as the most purchased and widely owned) of any carnivorous plant. It is a proud representative of a diverse group of plants that continues to astound most everyone from plant experts to plant amateurs and even the plant ambivalent. With its leaves shaped like gaping mouths with sharp teeth and its ability to snap shut and devour insect prey, it is a remarkable species, but would you believe that it is also a rare one?
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is native to a small region on the east coast of the United States near the border of North and South Carolina. Its range extends to about a 100 mile radius from Wilmington, NC. Within this region, the habitat of the Venus flytrap is mainly wet savannahs with sandy, peaty, acidic soils on the edges of swamps and fens. Thus with its limited range and specific habitat requirements, the Venus flytrap has always been a rare species, even before it became a popular houseplant.
Apart from being naturally rare, the Venus flytrap now faces numerous threats to its continued survival in the wild. The obvious one is its popularity, which has led to the harvesting of hundreds of thousands of wild plants to be cultivated and sold in the plant trade. Other threats involve its habitat. Wetlands are one of the most threatened ecosystems. They are frequently drained and developed for real estate, agriculture, and recreation, and they are regular victims of pollution and exotic species invasions. The wetlands that Venus flytraps call their home are no exception. Additionally, naturally occurring fires are being suppressed in this region, allowing larger plants normally kept in check by occasional fires to thrive and choke out low-growing Venus flytraps.
Despite these threats, the Venus flytrap has not yet been listed as a federally endangered species. However, it is currently listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina and is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Fortunately, wildlife officers in North Carolina do issue citations to anyone caught illegally harvesting Venus flytraps in order to deter such activity.
Dionaea muscipula © 2006 Barry Rice
If you are interested in owning a Venus flytrap, make certain that you are purchasing a nursery grown plant and not a wild harvested one. The plant label should specify this. To be sure you are purchasing a nursery grown plant, look for cultivar names, like ‘Red Dragon’ or ‘Royal Red’ (and many others). These are plant varieties that have been bred in tissue culture labs from cultivated plants.
To learn more about the Venus flytrap and its current conservation concerns, see this Encyclopedia of Life page.