The Future Of Carnivorous Plants

This section title propounds a vital question to which we can offer only some guesses, but they are largely well-founded guesses. Unfortunately, the outlook appears quite grim for many species. A number of factors contribute to this opinion.

Primarily, the most dangerous hazards are the result of man's modification of the environment for personal and often shortsighted ends. These modifications include, particularly, the control of fire and water levels in wetlands.

We will first consider the value of fire. The suggestion that there is any "value" in fire would seem anath ema to those who in the past century have put all the efforts and sloganeering into the control of fire throughout our wild lands. But what we will be talking about is a specific kind of fire in certain specific areas.

Fire is necessary for the health of a bog. Bog core samples show that in ancient times there were many fires, as is indicated by charcoal layers and evidence of post-fire regrowth. Modern research in which bogs have been regularly fired over a period of years shows that a fast surface fire tends to remove detritus, competing herbs, and young woody plants that invade the margins of a bog as it goes through its natural maturation process (eutrophication) toward becoming forest land in the north and a scrub bog in the south. Periodic autumn firing, properly controlled, can greatly prolong the life of a bog. However, man the farmer, lumberman, and developer has either caused superheated holocausts that destroy everything in huge tracts of natural lands or has tried to control all fire. Many fine areas formerly inhabited by carnivorous plants have been absorbed into forest or scrub during the lifetimes of living botanists who have witnessed the process.

Second, in order to be able to approach timberlands in swamps, as well as to extend agricultural areas, many wetlands have been and still are being drained. Others have been converted to ponds or lakes. In the relatively flat terrain of the southeastern coastal plains, where an area of several hundred acres may not have a variance in net elevation of more than a few feet, drainage is easily accomplished and can be clearly seen in the newly created patches of seasonal desert amid an extensive network of roadside ditches throughout this section of the country.

To these two main factors can be added such secondary insults as pollution with fertilizer and toxic materials, willful vandalism, and the collection of plants by casual enthusiasts who are passing through. There have even been recent documented instances of the collection by commercial nurseries of entire stands of extremely rare forms. These problems do not eclipse the more basic situation of a radical change in the habitat, but they are not at all minor, the excesses of human nature being what they are.

So much for the grim side of the picture. On the other hand, there are ongoing attempts to preserve representative areas from the fate of neighboring locations. These efforts are having varying success. More people are becoming seriously concerned about the misappropriation of our resources, even those resources in which no immediate economic value is apparent. Nature conservancies, provincial, state, and national parks and a few local ones, local private groups preserving a small bog, and botanical gardens featuring native plants are all making some headway in setting aside, protecting, and managing wisely areas that include carnivorous plants. Some states have passed sweeping plant protection laws, although enforcement of these laws is difficult and at best erratic. Some commercial lumber companies in the southeastern United States have, on the recommendation of experienced botanists, taken upon themselves the task of sparing and even annually burning certain botanically valuable tracts of land which could have been devoted to tree farming. However, these same companies grant "carnivorous plant collection and sales rights" to commercial nurseries.

There is a lot to be done, and the situation is rather urgent. No individual is going to be able to make dramatic changes of any sort, and much of the damage is irreversible, short of reclaiming sites through radical treatment and then making massive transplantings. But individuals can participate in and support conservation groups which are trying to set aside a few extant representative areas, whether they are areas of park proportions or small bogs located on local farmland which might be purchased and properly maintained. On an individual basis, one can pursue one's citizen's rights by electing sympathetic legislative representatives or influencing the votes of those already elected, keeping in mind the realistic fact that a certain proportion of desirable natural lands must and will yield to basic economic and human necessity. Also on an individual basis, one can discourage vandalism and suppress one's own inclination to dig and try growing unusual native plants alongside the tomatoes and petunias. They will always die with such casual treatment.

The serious student can be of further help by assisting in preserving in artificial or barren natural bogs, in tubs, or in greenhouses, many species of carnivorous plants that are collected from condemned sites or purchased through reputable dealers. Dealers are supposed to propagate their stock rather than collect from the field to fill orders. A few reliable commercial sources for carnivorous plants are given at the conclusion of this book, along with hints on growing the plants successfully.

The last two sections of this chapter are intended for the reader who is not widely experienced botani-cally. They are very brief reviews of flower structure and function and of the system of Latin biological names. Those desiring additional information should consult any elementary botany text or some of the references mentioned in the final chapter.

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