Williams has been planting and harvesting Venus Fly Traps, which only grown wild within a 90-mile radius of Wilmington, NC, since he was a child. “Let me put it this way, when I needed school clothes, that’s what I did,” Williams told me. Lean and long striding, Williams wears black rubber boots with a steel toe when he ventures into the swamp. The left boot leaks.
In 2014, removing Fly Traps from the wild became a Class H felony in North Carolina. Every time Williams goes out—around four days each week—he faces a two-year prison sentence. Although only 86 percent of Brunswick county is white, only black men have been charged with poaching. Williams himself was held in jail for six days on suspicion of stealing 19,000 Fly Traps from a local nursery before being released due to lack of evidence. During our two trips to the swamp together, we hid in bushes from passing ATV’s, ducked under trees to avoid the prying eyes of game wardens in planes, and were confronted by an AR15 wielding sheriff—all to protect a plant listed as a species of concern—not threatened, let alone endangered.