Boiling Spring Lakes hides iconic endangered plants

by | Jul 22, 2021

Venus Flytraps at Boiling Spring Lakes Plant Conservation Preserve

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services uses nature preserves to protect all kinds of rare plant and animal species, but perhaps none are as iconic as the Venus Flytraps at Boiling Spring Lakes Plant Conservation Preserve.

Despite being the most well-known, however, the flytraps are not the only rare species that inhabits the 6000+ acre preserve in the coastal town that shares its name. In fact, among the hundreds of species which live within the preserve the flytraps are not even the only carnivorous plant, sharing that distinction with pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and butterworts. Brunswick County is one of the most biodiverse places in North Carolina, and with several species of orchid and over 400 vascular plants on top of their carnivorous neighbors, few places better represent that than Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve.

The natural areas surrounding the City of Boiling Spring Lakes first caught the eye of NCDA&CS in the early 1990’s, said Lesley Starke, plant conservation program manager.

“The plant conservation program does periodic status surveys on the flytraps and other species, and in the early 90’s it was identified that one of the most important things for the conservation of the flytrap is protecting large refugia,” she said. “Not just protecting [flytrap] habitat, but maintaining these large areas was crucial.”

Several such areas were already protected, Starke said, including land on military installations, national forests and game land. Others, though, were still in need of protection and were highlighted as important next steps in seeing the flytraps forward. The Boiling Spring Lakes area was among those locations, and so NCDA&CS began working with The Nature Conservancy to acquire the land which would eventually become BSL Preserve.

The flytraps are of course not the only rare species protected at BSL, although Starke said they are a “flagship species” of sorts for the preserve.
“There are lots of other endangered species at BSL, it’s not just the flytraps. For instance, the federally endangered rough-leaf loosestrife is something we look at closely, and there are other state and federally listed plant species out there as well,” she said. “There are also wildlife species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, which actually lives mostly in the town itself. When you look at a map, the preserve is sort of donut-shaped around the City of Boiling Spring Lakes, and the woodpeckers are centered in the hole in the middle.”

Pitcher plants, another carnivorous plant species found at BSL

Managing a preserve home to such rare plant species comes with challenges. In particular, flytrap poaching is a serious concern for conservationists whose mission it is to preserve the iconic plant. New signage marking restricted areas has helped, and conservationists walk the ground when possible to deter poachers from overstepping their bounds.
While a small fraction of the preserve is accessible by walking trail, the vast majority is not, which Starke said is a major part of how BSL has kept many threats at bay.

Of the 26 plant conservation preserves managed by NCDA&CS, BSL is the largest by far. That makes maintaining it a significant task, and the NC Forest Service has been instrumental in making it happen.

“We’ve come to rely on the Forest Service,” Starke said. “They’ve been critical in recent years in helping us manage the larger tracts within the property. Even though it’s a whole mosaic system of different plant communities, pretty much every inch within that property needs some sort of prescribed fire. The large lots need so many more resources, and we’ve been able to continue doing that work through our partnership with the Forest Service.”

For people interested in rare and endangered plant species, there are few places in North Carolina quite like BSL Plant Conservation Preserve. For more information, visit or call (910) 395-5000.