Nowhere else on earth

Early in the process of surveying the Morton collection, I came upon a few mounted images from a “picture story” he had submitted to Life Magazine in 1951—not sure if it was ever published. The title of the photo essay was “Venus Fly Trap Moves Nearer Extinction,” and I was surprised to learn from reading one of the captions that the “moist pine barrens within 40 mile radius of Wilmington, NC are the only spots in the world where [the flytrap] is found growing wild.” News to me!

That same evening (I swear it’s true), I just happened to begin Josephine Humphreys’ novel Nowhere Else on Earth, and what did I read on page 2 but the following beautiful description of the swamps near Wilmington:

Some were pocosins, shallow egg-shaped basins landlocked and still, scattered northwesterly as if a clutch of stars had been flung aslant in one careless toss from heaven, leaving bays that sometimes filled with rain and sometimes dried in the sun, growing gums and poplars and one tiny bright green plant found nowhere else on earth, the toothed and alluring Venus flytrap.

Venus flytrap, September 1951

I scanned these two negatives used in the picture story and cropped them almost exactly as Morton did in his enlargements. The image below shows Mrs. Cecil Appleberry (left) and the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee, at whose insistence, according to Morton’s caption, “a 1951 North Carolina Legislature law restricting commercial shipment of the Venus Fly Trap was enacted.” While presumably a step in the right direction in terms of conservation, Morton also noted that “the real extinction threat comes from drainage.”

Mrs. Cecil Appleberry and the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee, Sept. 1951
These photos highlight not only the conservation history of a rare species, but the fact that Morton himself was interested in native plant protection at this early stage in his career, before he is typically associated with “environmental” causes.

While it has not become extinct, the Venus flytrap still faces threats from a variety of sources. “Vulnerable Venus Flytraps,” an article from the Winter 2006 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine, describes clever new methods being employed to deter poachers. “Carnivorous Plants in the Southeast Coastal Plain,” a slide show on the Nature Conservancy website, also provides some fascinating background on the flytrap.

10 thoughts on “Nowhere else on earth

  1. After several searches in Readers’ Guide Retrospective, and with the excellent assistance of Mike Van Fossen, I can pretty confidently say that no, this story was never published in Life Magazine. Do you have the text of the story? (Is there text, as a “picture story”?) That would be interesting to include alongside those photos in the digital library.

  2. Hey, thanks for the research, Jeffrey & Mike! There is brief text accompanying each of the images we have from the “picture story,” but unfortunately we only have four of them — #s 2, 3, 5 and 7. Above are #s 2 and 5; if you click on the image, you’ll go to a page where the full text is quoted.

    #3 reads: “Moist Pine barrens within 40 mile radius of Wilmington, N. Carolina are the only spots in the world where it [the flytrap] is found growing wild.”

    #7 shows a caterpillar crawling on a flytrap, and reads: “A roving caterpillar, lured by a plant odor attractive to insects, explores The Venus Fly Trap.”

  3. I checked the 1951 “Readers Guide to Periodical Literature” for a Morton “Life” magazine feature on the Venus flytrap, but didn’t find one listed.

    However, I did find an article in the March 1, 1952 issue of “The State” magazine titled “Fly Trap Faces Death” by Hugh Morton. The article includes 6 Morton photographs and can be found on pages 12-13. There is also a magnificent Morton photo cover. Two of the inside photos are the same as the ones in this post…the one with the hand holding the plant and the one of the Cape Fear Garden Club Conservation Committee meeting in 1951. That Garden Club photo is also in Susan Taylor Block’s 2004 book “Belles and Blooms: Cape Fear Garden Club and the North Carolina Azalea Festival,” and it’s on page 14. Also the lady on the right in the garden club photo is Mrs. P. R. Smith according to the caption..

  4. I gotta say I’m thrilled that this conversation led eventually to a link to a story about The Nature Conservancy’s flytrap replanting fiesta in the Green Swamp on Tuesday. It was an amazing day, out with the media and volunteers, replanting venus flytraps that had been poached a year and a half ago. The NC Botanical Gardens took care of the plants through the drought, and we were able to bring them back home.

    We were very particular about the planting. The Botanical Gardens staff want to track the success rates of the effort, and so we planted them in a 10×10 grid. I believe they’re going to survive just fine.

    Many nurseries buy these poached plants on the sly for dirt cheap instead of legally purchasing seed-grown greenhouse-raised specimen. Poachers sell them for about 25 – 50 cents a piece, and get little more than a slap on the wrist for committing this crime if and when they are caught. The Nature Conservancy and others are working to convince local governments to up the ante on the punishment.

    Anyhow, thanks.

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