Endangered Venus Flytrap Poached for Profit

PHOTO: In this 2009 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy, a Venus flytrap is open, in the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County, N.C. Three Brunswick county residents were arrested and charged with poaching Venus flytraps from The Nature Conservan

Venus' flytraps may have a fearsome reputation as far as plants go, but in the Carolinas, the endangered species may be the one in jeopardy.

Three people were arrested this week and accused of poaching wild-grown Venus' flytraps in hopes of selling the plants for profit.

"To some people, it's just another income, an easy dollar," North Carolina Wildlife Enforcement Officer Matt Criscoe said.

Criscoe was first to the scene at the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick, N.C. He said he caught the individuals holding more than 200 Venus' flytrap pods.

"When we talked to them, they were getting 10 cents per seed from private nurseries," Criscoe said. "I've heard of people selling them as high as 25 cents per pod."

This isn't the only incident of uprooting and selling the plant. According to Wildlife Enforcement Major Chris Huebner, officers have dealt with 10 to 20 cases per year over the past few years. Their largest recovery to date was 800 pods seized from an individual.

"There's a market for these plants," Huebner said. "People prefer the wild grown ones as to something that's grown in a nursery, sometimes selling them on the black market."

Outside of the black market, the plants can sell for as much as $15 each on the Internet.

The flytrap is considered an endangered species that only grows within a 100 mile radius off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina. Called the "bug-eating plant," they can only survive in low nitrogen areas.

If poaching continues, there's a chance the plant could go extinct, said Mark Garland, a United States Department of Agriculture botanist and National Plant Data Team member.

"It's a sad thing that people would want to do this, because they're wildly available cultivated," Garland said. "If it really got out of control the plant could go extinct."

As for those that are buying the stolen merchandise, members at The Nature Conservancy say the plant is purely purchased out of "curiosity."

"They're not really used for anything," conservation coordinator Sara Babin said. "Little kids love to have them because they're fun and educational -- that crazy, insect consuming plant!"

The nonprofit group says poachers have also been caught digging up galax and wild ginseng, all class II misdemeanors in the Carolinas. Last summer, the state legislature increased the penalties from $10 to $25 fines.

"It's a shame that it happens quite a bit down here," Babin said. "A lot of people travel to see the flytrap. You can tack it up as another tourist attraction."

Three family members were charged this week -- Shallotte residents Joyce Whaley, 71, her nephew Kasey Whaley, 31, and his wife Elizabeth Whaley, 27, Criscoe said.

None of the suspects returned ABCNews.com's calls on Wednesday.

All three were charged with citations for uprooting an endangered species without permission and asked to appear in court in March.

The citations carry a $25 penalty, but locals said the keeping the endangered plant means much more to them.

"It's a treasure to this area," Criscoe said. "We do our best to protect the environment, protect the resources of our state."

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