By Katherine Hale
Marketing & Communications Assistant
Named for its bright, open location in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, the Sunny Pond is perhaps best known for the green blanket of common duckweed carpeting its surface, as well as the many birds, turtles, frogs and other animals that call it home. Soon, however, the pond will also gain an additional claim to fame in the form of a new display showcasing the weird and wonderful carnivorous plants native to the southeastern United States.
“So many of our visitors are excited about carnivorous plants—with good reason—and the current bog garden is neither as immersive nor as engaging as it could be,” says Blomquist horticulturist Maegan Luckett. A sign promising a carnivorous plant bog “coming soon” has eager visitors asking, “How soon?”
Good question. As the Sunny Pond has never been dredged in the 30 years since it was dug, the first task is to drain the water so that decades of accumulated silt—2 to 3 feet in all—can be removed. The dredging is in process and will take several weeks. When that is completed, additional landscaping will be put in place to help slow and channel stormwater runoff from adjacent properties, which will also help to maintain the pond’s health in the future. Following this basic and necessary infrastructure work, the Blomquist team will erect a wooden boardwalk that will enable visitors to walk across part of the pond and better appreciate the carnivorous plants and other pond life. Luckett’s design also includes a seating area for wildlife observation and contemplation, similar to the wildlife garden patio near the main entrance of the Blomquist Garden. This multi-step process makes it difficult to set a fixed date of completion, but if all goes well, Luckett and the rest of the Blomquist staff hope to be finished in late 2024.
Carnivorous plants are native to open, sunny and nitrogen-poor marshes, bogs and wetlands, and they have evolved to capture insects in order to obtain the nutrients they need for growth and development. Among the most familiar carnivorous plants are pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), which have tubular leaves that serve as elaborate one-way traps for any insects lured inside by the bright colors, fragrant scents, or nectars produced by the “pitchers,” and the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), which has mousetrap-like appendages that will snap shut when triggered by hapless prey. This new display garden will feature a wide variety of Sarracenia species, hybrids and cultivars, such as the white-topped pitcher plant (S. leucophylla) and purple pitcher plant (S. rubra), as well as Venus flytraps, butterworts (Pinguicula spp.), bladderworts (Utricularia spp.) and non-carnivorous species like pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) that thrive in warm, swampy environments.
However, while the garden is intended to delight and divert, it also serves important conservation and educational purposes. Many of the most iconic carnivorous plants have limited native ranges (all known wild populations of the Venus flytrap are within 90 kilometers of Wilmington, N.C., for instance). This makes them especially vulnerable to development, habitat destruction and climate change. Furthermore, their increasing popularity in cultivation means that plants are often illegally poached from the wild, exacerbating their precarious situation. While ex situ conservation is critical to these species’ long-term survival, all of the carnivorous plants in the garden will be nursery-grown and purchased from a reputable dealer in order to supplement, rather than degrade, wild landscapes.
“Obviously, we still want to focus on supporting wildlife, but my goal with this new garden is to raise the bar and make it the best experience I can design,” Luckett says. “I want it to be something truly impressive, a horticultural recreation similar to what we’ve done with the Piedmont Prairie, only with the kinds of landscapes you’ll find in the coastal plains.”
Photos from top: Horticulturist Maegan Luckett excavates silt from the Sunny Pond in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, by curator Annabel Renwick; close-up of three white-topped pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) in the existing bog garden, by Cathi Bodine; and view of the partially excavated Sunny Pond, by Annabel Renwick.