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September 9, 2010

Carnivorous pitcher plants vanishing from Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve

Several species of insectivorous plant species grow in abundance at Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve in Lexington County, such as the yellow pitcher plant, purple pitcher plant, and sweet pitcher plant. However, numbers of the yellow pitcher plant have recently declined, and scientists are puzzled over why this is happening.Yellow pitchers

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists began to notice recently a decrease in the number of pitcher plants along the ecotone or transition area between two adjacent but different plant communities around the mill pond. "We sampled the water in the pond during the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010," said Brett Moule, DNR Region 3 Wildlife Coordinator, "but so far, nothing has been identified." However, it was recommended by DNR’s chemist, David Ruff, to keep an eye on the bromide count because it was out of balance. This could be due to runoff from the treating of an adjacent road earlier during the cold weather. The mill pond was also sampled for potential runoff of contaminates or pollutants (pesticides) from adjacent properties.

Yellow pitchers plants can grow in dense colonies in low-lying wet areas with sandy acid soil. In spring, it produces a large yellow flower, which pollinators can generally exit, and this ensures cross pollination. By late summer, the plant stops producing carnivorous leaves possibly due to lower light levels and insect scarcity during the winter months. Flies become victims of the pitfall trap when they seek potential food inside the "neck" connecting the tubular part of the pitcher. Once the fly enters the hollow leaf, it confronts a waxy surface leading to a pool of water. Bacteria living in the pitcher provide digestive enzymes.

Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve covers 62 acres in Lexington County and is centered on an old mill pond and associated wetlands on spring-fed Scouter Creek. Learn more about Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve.

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