Ecologists at University of Wisconsin-Madison led a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct 21, demanding Venus flytrap be recorded as an endangered species in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.
Famous for catching insects with leaves, the Venus flytrap is popular among plant lovers, widely cultivated and was brought on a Broadway show “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2003. However, wild populations only grow in the Carolinas’ coastal plains and their numbers are decreasing.
“It’s a plant in trouble,” said Donald Waller, an ecologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the petition. “It’s lost more than 95 percent of its original population size, it’s lost more than half of its original population locations.”
The Venus flytrap originated in the United States with only one species in the rare genus, yet the populations and habitats are declining due to construction, poaching and stealing, Waller said.
It became not only illegal but also felonious in North Carolina in 2014 to steal a wild Venus flytrap. In 2015, four men were arrested for stealing 970 plants, which is 3 percent of the world’s population of Venus flytraps in the wild, Waller said.
For Waller, Venus flytrap is more than a Broadway star. He wrote a paper about the evolutionary origins of the snap trap mechanism it uses to capture insects for the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of “The Origins of Species”.
“Darwin was fascinated by Venus flytrap,” Waller said. “My paper was attributed to Charles Darwin’s work and attempted to extend it and bring it up to the present with more modern understandings.”
During his research, Waller said he was surprised that the plant was not listed as an endangered species and started to seek help in saving the wild species. Jo Handelsman, the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, advised him to file a petition.
Although requiring only one signature, 25 botanists and ecologists from the United States and the United Kingdom filed and signed the petition with Waller.
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided the data in the petition was substantial, it would take at least one year to review the materials. For plants, the average time is 18 years, Waller said.
“We are also trying to get the public interested and involved,” Waller said. “We need an effort here to raise public awareness.”
He started an online petition on www.change.org, an online petition platform, that has collected 622 signatures from all over the world.