Sunday, November 06, 2011

In Love with Flytraps

Okay, I admit that lately I’ve been doing more thinking than writing. What I’m thinking right now is that if it weren’t for my bicycle accident, I’d be on the Inca trail scouting the terrain for my Inca Trail Marathon taking place this June. After trail running, I would have been off to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, a place I’ve not yet visited but to which I plan to guide a new group of explorers. Now the only destination on my immediate horizon is a drive down to Carolina Beach State Park. Starving for the outdoors after being virtually housebound during the past few weeks, I can hardly wait to get into the island park, hike the sea pine-forested trails, and ramble down sand dunes to the ocean.

The night before doesn’t promise much. It’s blustery and rainy, as tempestuous as a mini hurricane, reminding me that I’m truly living in hurricane territory, bringing up sobering images of Irene’s recent mauling of North Carolina’s barrier islands. But the next morning, the rain has gone, leaving a sky washed brilliant blue with tamer winds ushering in high pressure from the west, along with a lone flying cockroach hoping to infiltrate my living room. Not that I’m phobic, but North Carolina reminds me of other buggy places I’ve visited – Africa, for one, and India, where I woke up to the biggest bug I’d ever seen clinging to my mosquito netting, hands down the Gregor Samsa of cockroaches.

In the state park, I don’t see any bugs although I’m sure they’re around. The forest thoughtfully shelters me from the wind and offers that lacy, green light I’ve always loved since my boyhood summers spent in the birch woods of Wisconsin. The smell of pine has always appealed to me; mixed with the aroma of the nearby ocean, it’s clean and refreshing, like Christmas on the Olympic Peninsula. As I walk, I’m keeping a sharp eye out for the Venus Flytrap, a carnivorous plant native only to North and South Carolina, specifically an area within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington.

Yes! Flytraps are an endemic species! This is almost as exciting as searching for blue-footed boobies on Española Island or marine iguanas on Culpepper Island in the Galapagos. While I don’t spot any flytraps along the trail, I have a feeling that they’re lurking close by, trapping and digesting live prey like something from Little Shop of Horrors. I’m also amused by some of the names given to the list of cultivated species of the plant, colorful sobriquets like “Jaws,” “Al Dente,” and “Big Mouth,” as well as the more refined “Korean Melody Shark.”

The plant’s name is also a puzzler. Its common one is “Venus” (from the Latin name for the goddess of love). The genus name translates to “daughter of Dione,” a reference to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and the species name is Latin for “mousetrap.” I won’t venture a comment, except to suggest that interpretation may depend on your particular success with romance. As for the flytrap’s preferred diet of terrestrial insects, I’m thinking of installing a few plants in my house as an elegant (and certainly more environmental) alternative to roach motels.