Green Swamp Preserve

Venus Flytrap,Green Swamp PreserveNearby communities have drained or diverted water from the Green Swamp to supply new golf courses and resorts as well as local residents. Proposals for a landfill inside the preserve and a new interstate highway route through the swamp also threaten the survival of this rare ecosystem, which includes the endangered Venus’ flytrap. What do you see when you look at a swamp? Some people see a rich, diverse ecosystem that shelters unusual flora and fauna. But others, apparently, see a perfect site to dump trash.

That’s what happened in 2000, when a giant landfill was quietly proposed for the grounds of North Carolina’s Green Swamp Preserve. Talk about paving paradise to put up a parking lot! If local residents hadn’t got wind of it, one of the country’s last examples of a pocosin-an evergreen shrub bog—would right now be lying underneath a mountain of garbage taller than the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Fortunately, a grass-roots campaign was waged against the project, and for now at least, court rulings have blocked the landfill. In the process, local folks began to appreciate the swamp in their back yards as never before.

The word pocosin comes from an Algonquian term meaning “swamp on a hill.” The pocosin doesn’t look dark and murky like your classic swamp, but if you stepped off the boardwalk trail onto its spongy soil, you’d realize just how water-logged it is. Gallberry, titi, and sweetbay are the dominant evergreen shrubs, and American alligators hang out here (if it’s got an alligator, it must be a swamp). But longtime neighbors have nervously noted the swamp’s gradual shrinking, as ditches have drained its waters to supply the area’s growing population.

Along with the pocosin, you can also hike through one of the country’s finest examples of a longleaf pine savanna, a once common regional habitat that elsewhere has converted to a monoculture of loblolly pine. In contrast, these savannas have a thriving, complex ecosystem. Within the dense undergrowth of wire-grass, growing in tall tawny tufts between slender, ramrod-straight pine trunks, you’ll find the world’s most diverse collections of orchids and carnivorous plants—four kinds of pitcher plants, two bladderworts, sundew, and a truly amazing number of the endangered Venus’ flytrap, with its menacing toothed scarlet leaves.

Many of the plants in the Green Swamp benefit from the periodic burning they’ve been getting recently; not only are they fire tolerant, they’ve actually adapted to germinate better under fire conditions. The old-growth trees are often infected with red heart disease—but then, that’s the absolute favorite spot for red-cockaded woodpeckers to nest, where they can easily drill a big hole in the softened trunk. (Look for holes surrounded with shiny ring of sticky pine sap, which conveniently keeps out predators.) Once these woodpeckers have built these solid nests, they return to them year after year, making this woods one of the last strongholds of this highly endangered bird. If nothing else, that should have been reason to stop the landfill.