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Dionaea muscipula

division: Magnoliophyta

class: Magnoliopsida

order: Nepenthalesniales

family: Droseraceae

status: Vulnerable, IUCN

range: USA (North Carolina and South Carolina)

Description and biology

The Venus's-flytrap is one of North America's most well-known carnivorous or insectivorous plants. Insectivorous (pronounced in-sec-TIV-res) means that the plant depends on insects for food (it also preys on small animals). The Venus's- flytrap is classified as a perennial (plant that lives, grows, flowers, and produces seeds for three or more consecutive years).

The plant can grow to a height of about 12 inches (30.5 centimeters). It has 4 to 8 leaves, each measuring 0.8 to 4.7 inches (2 to 12 centimeters) in length. The leaves grow around the base of the plant, forming a rosette, or rounded cluster. The end of each leaf is divided into identical, semicircular halves that are connected or hinged at the midrib. The margins, or edges, of each half bear long, sharp spines.

The leaves secrete a sweet fluid, which attracts insects and small animals. When an insect lands on the leaf, it touches

trigger hairs at the center of the leaf. When touched, these hairs cause the leaf to snap shut around the prey. The spines interlock and the prey cannot escape. The plant then releases digestive solutions to dissolve the prey's body. After the prey is fully digested, the leaf reopens.

The Venus's-flytrap has a flowering stem that rises above the rosette. At the top of the stem is a cluster of 4 to 10 small, white flowers. Flowering begins near the last week in May and is usually over before the middle of June.

Habitat and current distribution

This plant is found on the coastal plain of North Carolina and South Carolina. Its range extends for about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Beaufort County in North Carolina to Charleston County in South Carolina. Botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) are unsure of the total number of Venus's-flytraps currently in existence.

Venus's-flytrap prefers to inhabit open, sunny bogs (areas of wet, spongy ground composed of decaying plant matter). Because the soil in bogs is low in nitrogen, the plant derives that nutrient from the insects and small animals on which it feeds.

History and conservation measures

The Venus's-flytrap once existed in great numbers, but since the 1970s its populations have been small. The two main reasons for the plant's decline are habitat destruction and overcollection.

Fire plays an important role in the Venus's-flytrap's habitat. Frequent natural fires remove most of the low vegetation in the plant's area. When these fires are put out quickly or even prevented, the Venus's-flytrap faces competition from other plants and is often destroyed.

Another habitat threat is the draining of wetland areas to create land suitable for housing or farming. Any permanent drop in the water level of a site can destroy any and all Venus's-flytraps inhabiting it.

Even though laws protect the Venus's-flytrap in both North Carolina and South Carolina, collectors treasure the plant, and it is still collected illegally from the wild. In 1990, more than 1,100,000 plants were exported overseas from North Carolina. Of these, over 300,000 were wild species.

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