Saturday, May 24, 2014

Feed me Seymour!

 Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)
This mouthy lil friend was the crowning glory of my day spent in Holly Shelter Gamelands. Oh, yes...there was some misadventure yet again which I'll get to in a bit, but this plant really needs to take the spotlight!

I had been told by numerous locals that I could expect to find Venus Flytraps here on this 80,000 acre preserve. Therefore, I was on the hunt. However, considering that they are such small plants, the traps being just a half-inch across in length and sitting close to the ground, I figured I' d have to do some searching. I began the day early, hiking at an easy pace and walking close to the edge of the road, my eyes never leaving the grass. Yet I saw not a one. What I did see within just a mile of crossing into the gamelands were large clusters of Pitcher Plants. Not only the Green Pitcher Plant (Sarrancenia oreophila), but also the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarrancenia purpurea). So much for seeing just one on the trail thus far. These regal-looking plants persisted throughout most of the day's hike.

Clusters of various Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia spp.) along forest roads inside the Holly Gamelands

the pitchers of the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

After about 3 miles, I still hadn't come across a single Venus Fly Trap, so I left the edge of the trail and simply started cruising. At one point I passed a large cluster of Pitcher Plants growing in high grass by a swampy drainage ditch. Perhaps I'll just take a look over here...

I took some more pics of the Pitcher Plants as well as this other species of Grass-Pink...

Pale Grass-Pink Orchid (Calopogon pallidus)
And then noticed a small 5-petaled white flower I'd never seen before...

The 5-petaled white flowers of the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula). These sat clustered at the top of 6-8" erect stems.

I got up close for a photo and that was when I noticed its basal leaves. Tiny sharp-toothed red and green mouths ready to devour whatever insect may cross their path.

The basal leaves of the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)

These traps capture and digest mostly small crawling bugs such as spiders, ants, beetles, oh and the hopping ones as well, like grasshoppers. Occasionally they will catch a low-to-the-ground flying insect. The hair-like teeth would more accurately be called cilia. These can sense when a prey is worth it's energy digesting. If the prey is too small it will simply crawl out. If the prey is a hardy meal it will inevitably brush another hair or two and the trap will suddenly close SHUT. Over the course of about 12 days, the prey will all but be completely digested, leaving just a husk of bug.

The Venus Fly Trap is North Carolina's state plant and is native to only a small portion of the North Carolina coast and South Carolina. In regard to North Carolina, it is reportedly found only within a 60 mile radius of Wilmington. Sadly, it is considered a highly endangered plant, with some conservancy groups stating inevitable extinction in the wild. It is endangered due to habitat loss and fire suppression, as well as people harvesting them for an exotic sell.

Holly Shelter Gamelands returning to wetland

I also learned after hiking through this area that this is one of the areas that burned so intensely while I was hiking in 2011. I don't know if my readers remember my walking for days in thick smoke...apparently this was part of the cause. However, this special preserve having once been largely a wetland and then converted to rows and rows of Long Leaf Pine by the paper mill that once owned the property, is now on it's way to returning to its natural state. The Long Leaf Pine is still thriving as is the wetlands. I passed this area on my way out...and oh was I ever glad to get outta here!

One of the forest roads, bordered by Long Leaf Pine (Pinus palustris) traveling through Holly Shelter Gameland

It must have been all my searching for those Venus Fly Traps that led me to take a wrong turn. I had specifically been warned by Monique Baker, tourism director for Pender County "Don't get yourself turned around in there! And whatever you do, don't go down any of the lesser side roads" as well as by Todd Rademacher, the planning director for the town of Surf City, "Make sure you don't get lost, they'll never find you in there!" Well...yeah...I got lost.

This 80,000 acre preserve, yes 80,000 acres...well 100,000 acres if you include the Angola Bay Preserve which connects to it, is accessed by one main road, criss-crossed by one other major road and then there are the host of lesser roads. The ones Monique warned me not to go down...the ones the MST directs me down. Upon realizing I was lost, sometime during the blazingly hot early afternoon. I checked my maps - no road names. I checked my directions - no help there. I called Kate Dixon- she offered to see if one of the maingates was open and to come get me - oh no this hiker ain't goin' out like that. She had no computer access to look at a more detailed map. Kate called computer access. Kate called my computer access. Yes, folks, in today's modern tech era! Kate called Joellen - Outreach Coordinator for the FMST - Joellen had computer access.

Joellen proceeded to spend an hour on the phone with me trying to pinpoint exactly where I was. "Did the road squiggle before this intersection?" "Do you remember any distinguishing signs?" "Do you remember walking beside a creek?" "Were there any gates." It was like a mobile game of Where's Waldo. The conversation ended with Joellen saying over the crackly line, "Okay, so I think you are at this intersection, which means you should be able to walk 2 miles down this lesser road and arrive back at the intersection you should have come to...but there's a possibility you aren't here in which case you'll have to turn around and walk back and call me again." I had one blinking bar of battery left. I hoisted my backpack and started down one of those ominous lesser roads...

And came to the right intersection!!! Joellen you are one helluva navigator!

Just so y'all know...I am acting as the guinnea pig for this new route. After I'm all done getting lost and turned back around, the FMST will know where all of the kinks are and get them ironed out in the updated directions. Pete Wetzel, you've done an excellent job, especially considering how many miles I've walked and how, relatively, little I've gotten lost!

The the heart-shaped upper leaf of a Green Pitcher Plant

I'd like to end this blog with a giant THANK YOU to Monique Baker, who took me in for two nights in Pender County, shared with me delicious food and drink, and whose cats, Daisy, Squeak, and Leo thoroughly kept me entertained. I had so much fun Monique -true southern hospitality! Thank you as well to Todd Rachemacher who went out of his way to pick me up from the trail, take me to a lovely campground in Surf City called Lanier's, and drop me back off bright and early! Thank you to Kate Dixon for also shuttling me to and from the trail, linking me up with so many wonderful people, and for meeting me at the trailhead with that ice cold coke at the end of my long, hard, and lost day in Holly Shelter Gamelands! And lastly thank you to some generous businesses in the area that provided excellent food and drink, as well as conversation, and allowed me to treat their space as my personal office for several hours- specifically Dabby's Grill at intersection of US 117 and Camp Kirkwood Road, and Harvey's Tavern and Deli in downtown Burgaw!


  1. Love the flytrap pix!

  2. wow- that's a lot of (somewhat scary) excitement my friend! so very glad you got yourself found :)

    I had no clue our state plant was the venus flytrap. crazy.