I love it when I meet people who shine in the spot they’ve chosen. Chris Helms is one of those people.
I had the pleasure of meeting him while doing a story on Wilmington, North Carolina for Motorhome Magazine. Helms is Park Superintendent at the Carolina Beach State Park.
I dropped by that morning, introduced myself, and he graciously took time to explain some of the park’s special features such as a Marina, wooded lots for campers, and fishing in water that’s a mixture of both salt and freshwater, due to the blending of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Fear River. And then, he mentioned the flytraps.
“Yep, Venus Flytraps?”
“Uh huh, you know like you saw in the movie ‘The Little Shop of Horrors?’ But, they’re much, much smaller, about the size of a kidney bean. Wilmington, North Carolina is the only place in world those plants grow naturally.”
No way. “And where would I find one of those?”
“On the Flytrap Trail, of course. Would you like to see one?”
So, Helms and I got in our separate vehicles (my car, his truck) and I followed him off into the woods. Keep in mind, I showed up unannounced that morning and this busy guy that I tracked down at the Marina, dropped what he was doing to show me the flytraps. And he was just as excited to share them as I was to see them.
We arrived at a wooded area, parked, got out, and he started off down a path where I didn’t see a path, stopping here and there, then suddenly, “Here’s some!”
He pointed to the ground and as I leaned in I saw these brilliant, green little flytraps with the tiny ridges they use to clamp shut when a spider or an insect ventures where it shouldn’t.
“The individual trap has trigger hairs,” he explained. “It will be open, the insect gets in there, and it hits three of the trigger hairs and closes. The main reason for that is so water droplets and other things don’t trigger it to close without the plant getting any benefit.”
As I took pictures, changing lenses to get closer shots, he went on to point out that they only grow within a 70 mile radius of Wilmington. There used to be a lot more in residential sections all over the city, but many of those areas have been paved over for developments, strip malls, etc.
He bent down to show me how one of the little plants open.
“Careful,” I said. “Will it pinch you with the ridges?”
“Nah,” he replied. “I think I can get away before it grabs me.”
Ha...ha. Very funny.
“Even Charles Darwin was impressed by these plants,” he added. “Early on, when the plant was discovered, it was taken to Darwin and he said it was surely one of the most unique plants in the world”
Now, people actually travel for miles to take these weekend Ranger-led hikes here to see those amazing little plants. Helms drew my attention to the fact that there were no signs posted marking the location of the plants.
“People will actually poach these plants. The guided hikes really are the best way to see them.”
While still at the park, thanks to Helms, I also learned about controlled burns in these heavily wooded areas, and how and why they use them. Helms also explained a little about some of the trees here such as the Longleaf Pine and how the sap or resin and the tar it produced is the reason people from North Carolina are called Tarheels.
There is something refreshing – and definitely rewarding – about spending time with a person who clearly loves what he does and takes so much pride (and joy) in sharing it.