Many Alabamians marvel at Venus flytrap plants in stores, not realizing thousands of carnivorous plants await at Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog near Fairhope.
Like the Venus flytrap, the pitcher plant is a sneaky insect catcher. Pitcher plants passively await their prey: insects are attracted to the pitcher’s colors, markings, sweet smell and leaves. When bugs enter the pitcher’s slick, waxy neck, they can’t crawl up to escape. The insects eventually die and break down, supplying nutrients to the plant.
These plants’ carnivory seem part of a master design: the bog near Weeks Bay is open and sunny, and has nutrient-poor soil. Carnivory allows pitchers a method of receiving needed nitrogen and carbon.
“The white tops put out pitchers in the spring, then more leaves in the hottest part of the year in July and August,” said Angela Underwood, education coordinator at Weeks Bay Reserve. “The Southeast is a hot spot for carnivory. Baldwin County has lots of species of pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. But the pitcher plants are the most obvious and showy.”
Conversely, the Venus flytrap is found only in North Carolina and South Carolina.
The white and red pitcher plants – which look exotic, dotted in green – bloom in early spring and persist through late summer at the bog. The black, watery soil is home to many species of orchids that bloom in spring and summer. In fall, wildflowers bloom and serve as hosts to several butterfly species. Visitors are treated to the sight of a veritable jungle of bracken – a green fern that thrives in the bog – and pine trees and wildflowers. From late August through September, visitors can enjoy hundreds of sunflowers in bloom.
Beyond beaches and battleships to bird-watching
Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog has plenty of sights to delight the kids – and let them run off energy on the 2,000-foot-long wooden boardwalk. The path is wheelchair-accessible, allowing most anyone to take in the surroundings. Signs along the raised path describe the plants and wildlife. After a stroll, guests can rest under a covered gazebo at Fish River. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch – just be sure to take your belongings with you.
Underwood said the bogs, which are a type of grassland, are a respite for migrating birds.
“Early morning is nice when the birds are singing,” she said.
Now is the time to see the beautiful red summer tanagers that are nesting. The bog is a “stopover” site for migrating birds, making it an excellent area for bird-watching. For example, ruby-throated hummingbirds come through on their flights across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America and Mexico. Underwood noted that bird lovers have a great view of fall migration throughout the Gulf Coast.
For years, Alabama Power has joined organizations in supporting the Weeks Bay Bald Eagle Bash Fundraiser to help safeguard birds and other wildlife dependent on the watershed. Unfortunately, the April 25 event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Take a stroll on the boardwalk and footpaths
Underwood urges visitors to stay on the wooden path to avoid damaging this increasingly rare habitat, which is sensitive to foot traffic.
She enjoys teaching people of all ages – from kindergartners to older people – about the bog and its vast diversity of plants and wildlife. She often helps with outreach events to educate people about pitcher plants and the bog.
“If you’re a botanist, you could stay out here all day,” Underwood said smiling.
“I just love being able to share my passion for the Southeast,” said Underwood, who earned a master’s degree in biological sciences from Auburn University. “I love the different ecosystems of the Southeast, and enjoy seeing people discover the amazing biodiversity Alabama offers.”
Visitors are welcome from dawn to dusk. To get to Weeks Bay Bog, travel on County Road 17, one-quarter mile north of Highway 98. Look for road signs. The bog is at left, with plenty of parking in the lot on the east side of County Road 17. Visitors with pets can use the foot trails behind the parking area. Click for details or call 251-928-9792.