It’s “Little Shop of Horrors” come to life.
While the Venus flytrap isn’t nearly as menacing as the classic musical character it inspired, the tiny chomper is a rooted hunter that continues to fascinate and elude botanists, budding scientists and amateur gardeners alike.
As if it wasn’t already sci-fi enough, a team of scientists discovered just this year that the meat-eating flora is also quite the mathematician. In January, Ranier Hedrich from the University of Würzburg in Germany released a study that found a flytrap can count the number of times an unfortunate victim triggers the plant’s sensory hairs, acting on second touch to snap closed and, by touch number five, digestion begins.
The weird, wild and wholly captivating world of the the native plant, which grows only within a 100-mile radius, will once again be celebrated during the upcoming Flytrap Frolic on Saturday, April 23. The sixth annual event, sponsored by the NC Coastal Land Trust, runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, 3800 Canterbury Road, behind Alderman Elementary School.
The family-friendly Frolic allows curious minds of all ages to explore Venus flytraps and its relatives, the pitcher plants and sundews, that springing up now as their growing season begins. The carnivorous plants “grow locally in wet, swampy areas and evolved to trap insects to get nutrients the soil lacks,” according to the land trust. New this year, two geocaches will be placed in the garden for so-inclined hobbyists to uncover.
After taking a tour of the garden – the only one of its kind in the nation – there will be lots more to do at the Frolic, including children’s crafts and facepainting. An interactive “touch box” activity will show how plants like the flytrap, butterwort, pitcher plant and sundew lure insects to them. Live snakes and birds will be on hand, as well.
Just a couple of years after opening, the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden – named for a well-known local horticulturist – suffered a major setback, when 1,000 plants were stolen from the site. With financial backing from the City of Wilmington and area residents, the garden was restored, but under increased threat of poachers around the region, state lawmakers decided in 2014 to put protections in place by making it a felony to pluck the plants unlawfully.