Hungry as the Grave

Feeding the Monster at Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina

In the original werewolf film, “Werewolves of London,” carnivorous plants are used as a metaphor for the perversion of the natural order of things, a foreshadowing of the unnaturalness of the werewolf himself. The protagonist, Henry Hull, is a botanist, and horrifies a prim and proper elderly woman at a garden party by showing off a Venus flytrap eating flies, and then feeding a frog to another, larger carnivorous plant; she runs offstage to vomit. A man who witnesses this complains that such things should not be brought “into Christian England.” Another botanist at the party, however, insists that Nature “has no creeds” and strikes up a conversation with Henry about the slippery boundary where the plant world ends and the animal world begins. Both Henry and this other botanist later become the werewolves of the film. Like carnivorous plants, they horrify people because they blur the boundaries between the animal world and the human world.

sarah-deremer

Artist Sarah DeRemer also wonders about plant and animal identity

Are carnivorous plants a perversion? It’s an unfair point of view – in reality, plants that feast on animals do so out of necessity – all the known species evolved in areas with poor soil and nutrients, such as marshes and swamps. To overcome dietary deficiencies, these plants evolved to eat animals. Interestingly, not only plants, but herbivores will show this behavior. Cows will eat small animals (such as rabbits) if they suffer a mineral deficiency. But we are left feeling a certain horror that a plant can eat an animal. It does seem supernatural, like an act of sorcery of some kind.

In that regard, the flytrap is a bit like the werewolf of the Plant Kingdom. I wonder if the residents of Cape Fear will ever report sightings of a horrible wild Herb Man running around biting people?

Because, actually, the Venus flytrap is native to an area around a 70-mile radius from Wilmington, North Carolina, known as Cape Fear. This area got its name from the fact that its waters were so treacherous to ships that there were frequent wrecks, as many as 5,000 in just 500 years of sailing; in fact, the waters around Cape Fear are known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. So not only is the soil so nutritionally poor here that the plants must eat flies to survive, but the very ocean will swallow ships to satisfy some deep, inscrutable hunger.

I might as well mention that the land seems to devour people in the Cape Fear region, too. The famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, you guessed it, disappeared right in this area, with nary a trace. Maybe the Herb Man got them.

venus flytrap wilmington

Southern Hospitality on the Wilmington Waterfront

With all of this horror and mystique going on, the Venus flytrap seems to fit right in, and the people of Wilmington certainly aren’t concerned about a Public Relations fiasco. A large Venus flytrap sculpture graces the riverfront boardwalk next to the downtown area. The name of the sculpture? “Southern Hospitality.”  Now there’s food for thought.

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