Preserving Carnivorous Plants

Some species of carnivorous plants are in danger of extinction. Many people attribute this outcome to man's activity. This fundamentally is a false view. Evolution has been going on for eons. True, man has in some cases accelerated the process, but if man were not around, all bogs would eventually become dry land with trees growing in them. Natural geological processes will result in lakes becoming swamps and then dry land. Some of man's activities have certainly reduced populations of carnivorous plants, but the inevitable outcome of natural processes is another cause for diminishing plant numbers.

The prime human activity responsible for the reduction in numbers of some species of carnivorous plants is the alteration of the environment. To many people, wet lands such as bogs and swamps are worthless and a waste of land. As a consequence, they often become sites for dumping trash. With the increase in the "standard of living" many of these areas have been drained for housing developments, shopping plazas, industrial complexes and for recreational activities such as golf courses. With the decrease of available land due to increased demand and cost, farmers have drained wetlands for agricultural purposes. As a consequence of these activities the water table of vast areas has been lowered, adversely affecting the carnivorous plants in those areas.

The advent of modern agricultural and forest management has resulted in the reduction of wild fires and controlled burning. Fire is necessary for the health of certain groups of carnivorous plants. In some species, such as most of those that grow in the United States, fire removes some of the detritus, the dead plant remains, and competing plants which inhibit the reproduction and growth of carnivorous plants. Wild fire is necessary to release the nutrients bound up in other plants. In Australia, for example, periodic burns are required by some Drosera plants in order to flower. Others will flower more prolifically if their habitat is burned. Some seeds of Australian Drosera species will not germinate until they have been subjected to the heat or gases generated by fire.

Pollution is another factor that leads to the demise of carnivorous plant stands. The extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides produces residues which alter the habitats of carnivorous plants. Waste products from industrial processes also have an effect. Waterways in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, U.S.A., home of several carnivorous plant species, exhibit oil slicks. One wonders what other chemicals may be dissolved in the water which are not visible.

Field collection of plants has been pushed to the foreground by many as the chief cause for the reduced numbers of some carnivorous plants. It is true that over-collec-tion is detrimental, but it is also obvious to anyone acquainted with native populations of carnivorous plants, that the plant stands often become overcrowded, resulting in substantial mortality. Judicious field collection of plants can be helpful, particularly in overcrowded stands. Wise collecting benefits the total plant population by distributing plants to other suitable habitats.

Laws have been enacted to protect this group of plants. These laws, based on sound scientific premises, have proved cumbersome and, in some situations, notably difficult to enforce.

A growing awareness for the need to preserve carnivorous plants has developed in recent years. As a consequence, many groups have been unselfishly working to preserve and manage natural bogs and wetlands inhabited by carnivorous plants. While these activities are commendable and succeed in preventing man-initiated change, the path of nature is plant succession which means that eventually wetlands will become dry land. We may be able to slow down this natural process but it's doubtful that we can stop it.

Preservation of carnivorous plants for the long-term enjoyment, thousands of years hence, will have to be by means of cultivation by as many people as possible. It is vital that knowledge of the cultural and propagation requirements for this fascinating group of plants be accumulated and disseminated to as many interested people as possible. An ideal way to do this is to join and participate in any of the carnivorous plant societies which publish newsletters.

Another unexplored potential for preserving the plants for the future is to carry on breeding programs to produce carnivorous plants that will grow in less demanding or restrictive environments.

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