People tend not to think of rare plant and animal species when they think of Myrtle Beach. Yet, not far from the Grand Strand’s signature city, and just off the beaten path of Conway, sits a nature preserve of over 10,000 acres that feels worlds away from the sights and sounds of the popular beach town. Not only do endangered red cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) make habitat within the preserve’s longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustrus) – themselves rare species due to over-harvesting – but rare and endangered Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) can be observed in the longleaf pine savannahs of the preserve.
Though Venus flytraps (seen below) can be found for sale in most nurseries or hardware stores, their natural range is quite limited, and South Carolina can boast that it is home to the carnivorous plant. Though its range technically extends from Charleston County to the Green Swamp of North Carolina, it is primarily found within Horry County in the Palmetto State. In fact, no populations are presently known below Horry County. Unfortunately, the species is vulnerable to poachers who collect them to propagate and sell.
Other carnivorous plants can be found in abundance throughout the preserve, such as frogs’ breeches (Sarracenia pupurea), dwarf sundew (Drosera brevifolia), and yellow trumpet pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava), which can be seen below. The poor soil quality and drainage create ripe habitat for these plants, which use insects for supplemental nutrition. The natural communities, ranging from sandy flatwoods to pine savannahs, allow for great species diversity within the preserve. The preserve is also home to 23 Carolina bays, geographical occurrences of unknown origins. The elliptical formations act as basins and collect freshwater, hosting several water-tolerant plant species such as pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens).
Managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the preserve undergoes regular maintenance including periodic burns to keep diversity thriving. Lewis Ocean Bay is considered a small-scale diversity site, meaning that several species of plants exist within a small area. Around 150 different plant species can be observed in 1 square meter of this site.
The preserve is also known for being the home of South Carolina’s largest population of black bears (Ursus americanus). Increased traffic due to nearby development has resulted in the accidental killing of several black bears by vehicles. A 2007 study found that 41 bears in the area were killed by cars on neighboring roads. Such encounters can be dangerous not only for bears, but also for motorists, so be on the lookout when driving near the preserve.
Nature lovers will appreciate the plant and animal diversity of Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. A walk through the savannahs, Carolina bays, and wildflower meadows of the site make visitors feel far-removed from the hustle and bustle found just up the road. In fact, visitors need to be careful not to accidentally trample the plants that occur so frequently throughout the preserve, such as the abundance of frog’s breeches, seen above. For those looking to experience the ecology of the Grand Strand without the noise and crowds – and to see what the land off Ocean Boulevard may have looked like generations ago – venture to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve.