COLUMBIA, S.C. – Conservationists are pushing for the Venus fly trap to be South Carolina's official carnivorous plant, joining other official items such as the state bird (Carolina Wren), state opera (Porgy and Bess) and the state snack (boiled peanuts).
In all, South Carolina has about five dozen official state things. There are already five different plants including yellow jasmine, which is the official flower, to the official fruit — the peach — to Indian Grass, which is, unsurprisingly, South Carolina's official grass.
But supporters said honoring the Venus fly trap isn't about one extra thing students see on an elementary school worksheet.
Instead, it's about protecting and increasing awareness of an interesting species found only in this spot on the globe: the upper part of the South Carolina coast and a small sliver of southeast North Carolina.
“In a state as small as ours that is growing every day, we have to protect the things that belong here,” said South Carolina Sen. Thomas McElveen, who lead a subcommittee Tuesday that voted to advance a bill to elevate the status of the carnivorous plant.
The Democrat knows all about the allure of the plant with leaves that can trap insects to get a source of nutrition in the nutrient-poor soil where it grows.
McElveen said his mom bought him one when he was a kid from the market. He named it "Audrey II" after the ravenous and cruel human-eating Venus fly trap in Little Shop of Horrors.
In the wild, Venus fly traps are the size of a lima bean and mean no harm to anything other than spiders and flies. They have special hairs that when brushed — twice in succession to reduce the amount of false alarms by dust or rain — snap the leaves shut around the insect.
If the prey continues to wiggle and is too big to escape from between the hairs, the plant releases acid that dissolves and digests the insect and provides nutrients.
“This is a plant for South Carolina to be proud of. It is globally rare,” Coastal Conservation League biologist Trapper Fowler told senators.
Venus fly traps face two big enemies — poachers and development. Poaching is illegal and the best groups of plants have been in heritage areas where they can grow away from thieves and avoid people in South Carolina's fastest growing region. They're also a fragile plant that needs fire more than water — the blazes clear out faster, denser overgrowth that can choke the smaller fly traps.
The bill still has to get through the full Senate Family and Veterans Affairs Committee and then approval on the Senate floor before heading to the House.
But there's enough time this year for the Venus fly trap to join other official South Carolina things like the official spider (Carolina Wolf Spider), picnic cuisine (barbecue), dance (the Shag) and stone (blue granite).
“You’re not just naming this plant and putting it in the back of our legislative manual,” McElveen said. “You may be doing something to raise awareness and conservation.”