SirKristoff is a poopiehead
- Jul 29, 2001
- Greenswamp, NC
[b said:Quote[/b] ]
In a hard-to-find field behind a local school, Stanley Rehder has created an otherworldly ode to carnivorous plants
By Ben Steelman
Enlarge | Purchase
Drive up a dirt road behind Alderman Elementary School, past the temporary classrooms and monkey bars, and take a left into the woods, and you’ll come to a stretch that looks like something from the Planet Mongo.
Huge pitcher plants, their openings half-covered by umbrella-like leaves, poke out among the grass and the wild orchids. On slightly smaller, ruddy-colored pitcher plants, those coverings almost look like giant noses.
Little sundews peek out beside paving stones.
It’s easy to miss some of the stars of this little show, if you don’t bend over to see them.
Stanley Rehder never misses them.
Rehder, 84, has been passionate about carnivorous plants since he was a boy. “My daddy took me and (my brother) Henry and anybody else who would go out to the woods to see the flytraps,” he recalled.
Now, he devotes himself to saving them. He’s turned the tract behind Alderman – now on its way to becoming a public park – into a mini-preserve for Venus’ flytraps and other insect-eating plants from across the American South.
Over the years, Rehder has talked about flytraps with Jane Pauley on Today, on Good Morning, America and on the old That’s Incredible series. He campaigned for tougher state laws against poaching flytraps from their natural beds, and he proudly reminds anyone who’ll listen that the General Assembly recently made flytraps North Carolina’s official state plant.
“While other people had roses in their houses, we had flytraps,” recalled his daughter, Julie Rehder. At her first wedding, she carried a bouquet of pitcher plants, arrange by her dad.
And every spring, he used would drive off through New Hanover and Brunswick counties – in a car with the personalized license plate “FLYTRAP” – trying to find flytrap beds., she said.
Follow Stanley Rehder through the Alderman tract, and his enthusiasm is contagious.
“When I came out here a few weeks ago, they had these beautiful little white flowers,” he said, picking out a pair of flytrap leaves, blood-red on the inside, with prickles that looked more than a little like fangs. “Now they’re beginning to go to seed.” These little white flowers are what he looks for, when he’s scouting for flytraps in the wild.
He took a small pin and tapped the inside of the leaves, which resembled a set of jaws.
“You see these three little needle points on each side? You hit one and nothing happens. That keeps it from being shut by a raindrop or something. But if you hit two ...”
As he touched the second point, the tiny jaws clamped shut like an alligator. If a fly or a gnat or an ant had landed between those leaves, it would have been trapped – and strong digestive acids from the plant would have steadily dissolved it, dripping nutrients back into the stem.
The Alderman site isn’t the only place around here where you can find insect-eating plants. Around Boiling Spring Lakes, in Brunswick County, you can spot them growing along roadside ditches. Lots of them sprout along trails at Carolina Beach State Park, if you know where to look.
Flytraps grow all around here. As Rehder notes proudly the natural range of the venus’s flytrap is limited to a 75-mile radius with Wilmington at its center point.
These green carnivores, he explained, are a wonder of adaptation. They grow
only in poor, wet soils, lacking the mineral salts that most other plants need to grow well. Instead, those minerals and other nutrients come from the bugs lured into their cunning natural traps.
In this part of the world, the land that best fits these plants needs is usually found in Carolina bays, those oval-shaped, boggy depressions formed tens of thousands of years ago by a process scientists still can’t explain.
Carolina bays aren’t real bays, although some of them hold actual bodies of water -- Lake Waccamaw, for instance. Others, however, are technically “dry” land, but muddy or boggy for much or all of the year. The land around what is now Independence Mall, including the Alderman School site, was once a good-sized Carolina bay, Rehder explains.
And right behind it, where Rehder was standing at that very moment, was a tract too wet for building.
As Rehder explains it, decades ago, developer Hugh MacRae had wanted to build an apartment complex back there, similar to the Oleander Courts.
Construction crews ran a road bed through the tract, but it flooded so often, the project was abandoned.
Fast-forward to about 30 years ago. Rehder, a real estate investor himself, happened to rediscover the half-forgotten road. Within the long, narrow dip, flytraps and pitcher plants were thriving, “but they won’t grow an inch beyond it,” he added.
Before long, with the blessings of The Oleander Co., Rehder adopted the property.
“We come through every December and January and clean this area out,” he said, cutting down small trees that could turn the bed into a pine forest within a few seasons.
Along the way, Rehder also played Johnny Appleseed, scattering flytrap seeds and introducing a few varieties of pitcher plant -- known to botanists as Sarracenia -- that grew in other areas, from South Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico, but not here.
The result, technically, isn’t natural. “The Good Lord and I did it together,” Rehder said.
Now, it looks as if Rehder will get a little help with his mini-Eden. With the cooperation of the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, The Oleander Co. has put the tract under a conservation easement, a legal document that ensures it will not be developed.
The plan is to turn it over to the city of Wilmington for a nature preserve.
Right now, the site is sort of open to the public. A few signs mark the way at the edge of the Alderman playgrounds. Behind the underbrush, along an unpaved earthen trail, a container holds pamphlets that tell visitors a little about insect-eating plants.
If a couple of federal agencies approve, however, visiting will soon get a lot easier.
City voters approved $200,000 toward that project as part of the May 6 bond
referendum. Plans call for a raised boardwalk to take the place of the flagstones that currently mark a trail through the old road bed.
Educational displays and an observation platform would also be added.
“So much of the natural part of the world is run over, rubbed out,” Rehder said. “We are blessed to be able to keep some of it.”
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
[b said:Quote[/b] ]Venus’ flytraps along the nature preserve trail behind Alderman Elementary School. Flytraps can also be found growing near roadside ditches in Boiling Spring Lakes in Brunswick County and along trails at Carolina Beach State Park, if you know where to look.
Staff photo | Ken Blevins
[b said:Quote[/b] ]THEY EAT MEAT
Venus’ flytrap (Dionaea muscipula): The darling of greenhouses and classrooms since it “bites.” The plants grow close to the ground, although the small white flower (which appears briefly in May and early June) might grow up a foot or so. The leaves are kidney-shaped and reddish on the inside; each of the paired lobes has between 14 and 20 hairs or “teeth.”
Native only to a small region around Wilmington, flytraps are easy to propagate. Check at a plant store for seeds.
Pitcher plants (Sarracenia): Any of several varieties of insectivorous plants. The leaves form large pitchers or trumpets. Insects fly in, attracted by the plant’s sugary aroma; then, hairs pointing down along the inside of the pitcher keep them from escaping. Slit the trumpet toward the bottom, and you can find the husks of insects dissolved by the plants digestive juices.
Among the commonest Sarracenia around here are the tall, green Flava. The hooded trumpet, Sarracenia minor, usually found near the South Carolina state line, has thin organic “mirrors” in its trumpet that admit light and keep the insects from panicking at their plight.
Sundews (Drosera): Use tentacles covered with a sticky “dew” to catch prey. If an insect lands on it, it will curl up and grab it.
Most are very small, though very colorful, although a few varieties might reach the size of a human hand.