Poaching a threat to rare Venus flytrap plant

Three people have been arrested in Brunswick County, NC and charged with digging up 200 Venus flytrap plants. Joyce Whaley, 71; her nephew, Kasey Whaley, 31; and his wife Elizabeth Whaley, 27, reportedly told North Carolina wildlife officers that they wanted to sell the rare plants for about 10 cents a piece.

Those who study the Venus flytrap say poaching can be a real problem for the plant's continued survival.

Its unique ability to capture insects makes the plant popular with kids and adults, but it's our fascination with this rare carnivorous plant that also makes it a tempting target for poachers.

"People mistakenly think if they find a patch, they can harvest the entire patch, take them home and make money. That's not really the case. You can buy Venus flytraps now in any of the big box stores," said Coastal Carolina University botanist Dr. James Luken.

The only place in the world where the Venus flytrap is found in the wild is within a small stretch of coastal North and South Carolina, including Horry County.

Luken said there may be three to four thousand of the plants growing in the heavily-wooded area where he goes to study the plant. To discourage poachers, NewsChannel 15 won't reveal the location.

Luken said the Venus flytrap is not officially listed as endangered but probably should be, and the population is small enough that the loss of just a few plants can be quite serious.

"A poaching event that removes an entire small population can really have a big impact on the sustainability and the viability of the entire population."

For Luken, who's been studying the plants for ten years, spotting a potential poaching incident is pretty easy.

"It basically leaves a little divot in the organic soil and it looks very different than animal digging or anything like that. It has a very characteristic look to it," he said.

It's not just poaching that's a problem, though. Housing and commercial development threatens the plant's habitat, too. Still, Luken is optimistic about the Venus flytrap's long-term survival.

"Luckily in both North Carolina and South Carolina, we have some really big preserves with healthy populations of plants, so as long as we continue to manage those correctly, I think we'll be OK."

In North Carolina, the fine for digging up plant species like the Venus flytrap is $25.