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FIELD NOTES: Venus if you will...

Back in July, I went to a baseball game. The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers played the Fayetteville Woodpeckers at Atrium Health Ballpark in Kannapolis. The Woodpeckers are a relatively new team, and I recall reading the press release a couple of years ago that unveiled the team name, colors, and logo. My response was, meh.

The Woodpecker's name and logo are perfectly adequate, but nothing special, in my opinion. The press release noted that woodpeckers are native to the Fayetteville area, and while I'm sure that's true, they are also native to about 99% of North America. I had a better name in mind.

The Venus flytrap is found almost exclusively in the Cape Fear watershed from Cumberland County, where Fayetteville is located, to Brunswick County on the coast. Not only is this well-known plant a distinctive feature of the area, but the name "flytrap" or "flycatcher" also has intriguing baseball implications, making it a perfect team name. And the plant's colors, dark green, light green, and pink-red, would be a unique palette for a sports team. The logo could be a stylized Flytrap wearing a baseball cap and poised to catch a ball in its outstretched snap trap. The marketing possibilities are endless. Everyone LOVES flytraps!

Or maybe it's just me. I've been fascinated with these carnivorous plants since I saw a documentary when I was a boy. The Kroger supermarket near our house occasionally sold them as a novelty back in the day, and I begged my parents to buy me one. It was a hard sell, so I'm guessing they weren't cheap, but eventually, they relented. Predictably, since I was eight and had no idea how to raise a flytrap, it lasted just a few weeks, but in those weeks, it performed as expected, snapping its leaves shut with the placement of a dead fly or a small piece of hamburger.

Although widely propagated and available as a houseplant, the Venus flytrap is endangered in its native habitat, where rampant development (Brunswick County is one of the fastest-growing places in the country) is choking out the wetlands where it thrives.

The plant's flycatching abilities are an adaptation to the nutrient-poor soil in which it grows. Although there are several variations of carnivorous plants, the "snap trap" mechanism of the Venus flytrap is shared with only one other, the "waterwheel," a free-floating, rootless aquatic specimen. 

The leaves of the flytrap have tiny trigger hairs on their inside surface. An insect landing on or crawling across the leaf contacts one of them and begins the triggering process. If another of the hairs is touched within 20 seconds, it initiates a chemical reaction that closes the two segments of the leaf, trapping the insect inside. This ensures that the plant does not expend its energy closing on airborne contaminants with no nutritional value. 

If triggered, the leaf segments close in less than a tenth of a second, a remarkable fast-twitch response for a plant, and trap the insect inside. The closed leaf sections form an airtight seal, and digestive enzymes are released into this "stomach." It takes about two weeks for the flytrap to digest its prey, after which it reopens.

Although not commonly seen in store-bought specimens, in nature, mature flytraps develop a white flower at the end of a long, orchid-like stalk and produce tiny black seeds. It takes four to five years for a plant to grow to maturity from seed. Properly maintained, flytraps have a lifespan of 20-30 years. Most commercially available examples are cloned from cuttings, which is a faster and easier process.  


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