All text and photos by Maymie Higgins
My favorite spot on Earth, Pleasure Island, includes a state park that is home to several carnivorous plants, Carolina Beach State Park. The park was established as a North Carolina State Park in 1969 to preserve the unique ecosystems along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Within the 761 acre park, one may find pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, butterworts and the well known Venus flytrap. On vacation last fall I was determined to find at least one of these species in spite of the time of year.
I began by taking the quick tour of the visitor center and chatting with the office staff for tips on where to explore the most. The visitor center includes display cases with multiple specimens that can be found within the park. But I wanted to see flesh-eating plants in their natural habitat, on Flytrap Trail.
Flytrap Trail is a short half-mile loop. It is easy to see evidence of prescribed burns as you move through pocosin, longleaf pine, turkey oak and small savannas. Venus flytraps can be seen along the edges of the pocosins, and native orchids bloom along the trail. Venus flytraps are native only within 60 to 75 miles of Wilmington. New propagation methods have saved the flytrap from becoming an endangered species. However, their numbers are declining due to the destruction of their habitats. Controlled burning is beneficial to flytraps, as well as other kinds of carnivorous plants, as it discourages competing species.
Parts of the trail travel along wooden boardwalks. It was on one of these small boardwalks that I experienced a mini adventure. With camera in hand, I was thrilled when I spotted a large specimen of a pitcher plant, just beyond a small boardwalk. Surrounding the plant were savanna grasses and wild flowers that reached three to four feet high. As I began to stretch myself prone across the boardwalk in order to get a good photo, I heard an abrupt rustle in the grasses by what had to be a sizable animal. I had the thought that I could be in trouble, laying on my belly in such way, but waited calmly to see what animal would emerge. It was a white-tailed deer, a doe, that high-tailed it in the opposite direction. I felt badly for having interrupted her siesta.
While the pitcher plant was the only carnivorous plant I found on the trail, the hike was really fun. Next time, I intend to hike Sugarloaf Trail, which is a three-mile trail that passes through the marsh and enters a pine forest and follows the Cape Fear River edge to a mud flat that serves as habitat for fiddler crab.
Carolina Beach State Park also has a popular campground. All the sites are shaded and private, and seem as if they would provide cool, quiet respite from summer heat. Perhaps I will set up my pop-up camper there in the very near future. A beach, a river and a waterway all a mere bicycle ride away from a cozy campsite that is also surrounded by multiple hiking trails? Now that I think about it, why am I not there right now?
Watch this video if you are interested in visiting the park too.