Often described as the most unusual plant on earth, the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Ellis) is a terrestrial insectivorous (bug-eating) plant native to a small section of South Carolina and North Carolina within an approximately one-hundred-mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. The plant produces highly modified leaves that act as active trapping mechanisms, which snap shut when small insects crawl across the leaf. The surfaces of the leaves contain nectar glands along the margins that produce a sweet substance to attract insects. Small hairs on the leaf surfaces act as triggering mechanisms. A prey must touch more than one hair or a single hair twice within a twenty-second interval for the trap to close. This adaptation allows the plant to differentiate between a meal and a raindrop or other object dropping on the leaf. Once the trap is triggered, it closes within a half-second, trapping the insect inside. Special glands on the leaf surface “digest” the insect and then the leaf may open again. Each leaf can close approximately three times before dying or becoming inactive.
This unusual plant is found in longleaf pine savannas and on margins of pocosins (shrub bogs), where light is abundant and soils are sandy and acidic. These areas are kept open by frequent low-intensity ground fires that have traditionally burned through the area in intervals from two to seven years. In South Carolina this species is currently found only in Horry and Georgetown Counties and is threatened by development, overcollection, and lack of fire. Large populations occur in the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve and Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve, both in Horry County.
Fagerberg, Wayne R., and Dawn Allain. “A Quantitative Study of Tissue Dynamics during Closure in the Traps of Venus’s Flytrap Dionaea muscipula Ellis.” American Journal of Botany 78 (May 1991): 647–57.
Porcher, Richard D. A Guide to the Wildflowers of the South Carolina Lowcountry and Lower Pee Dee. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Porcher, Richard D., and Douglas A. Rayner. A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
Sibaoka, Takao. “Rapid Plant Movements Triggered by Action Potentials.” Botanical Magazine [Tokyo] 104 (March 1991): 73–95.