Coastal Carolina students save plants from International Drive construction

Coastal Carolina students save plants from International Drive construction

From our news partner My Horry News:

As off again-on again construction at International Drive continues, bears are not the only living things that have some locals concerned.

In the early days of construction of the 5.6-mile four-lane highway, environmentalists fought to have tunnels built, allowing bears to go through them instead of being vulnerable to traffic.

Less controversially, biology students at Coastal Carolina University have worked diligently to save threatened plants from bulldozers' blades.

"It was five o'clock in the afternoon and there was a wood chipper 50 yards from where we were digging with wood chips flying everywhere," said Benjamin Flo, a biology major who worked on the project.

"They had to move fast on the project, they were literally digging in front of the bulldozer," said biology professor James Luken.

Working from September to November, stopping only when Hurricane Matthew forced them to, Flo and Mitchell Wimberley, also a biology major, moved about 120 green pitcher plants from the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve to a botanical bank at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority on S.C. 90.

Luken said people come from all over the world to the preserve, which is a sanctuary for rare plants and wildlife.

The botanical bank is a two-acre tract of land provided by the waste authority which will be open to the public.

The area, Luken said, "is a good spot as the acreage is composed of former wetlands that are home to many endangered plants."

He hopes the botanical bank will include walking paths by spring.

"The plans are to build walks in there so people can see these plants," he said. "It's a very wet area and [without the walkways], a lot of times, people would be standing in water."

Luken said the public viewing the plants will involve a "delicate balance."

"We want to make them available to the public to see them, but some people want to poach them and dig them up and take them home. There will be an area where people can walk around and see them, and an area where they cannot."

Luken said all carnivorous plants tend to be relatively rare due to the unique types of habitats they require to grow. Those habitats are wet, open, nutrient poor and subject to frequent fire, he said.

Flo called the project a definite success and only regrets not having had more time to work on it.

"We had six months, but imagine if we had more time, what we could do in terms of saving plants that are in the way of construction.

"We did it the old fashioned way with a simple bucket and a spade," Flo said about the way he and Wimberley dug up the plants.

Wimberley added that even after the International Drive project is completed, he hopes people will continue to be conscious of plants that are threatened.

"Contractors, developers, land owners, if they're doing anything [that might harm threatened plants] by all means, contact us," Luken said.

Flo's email address, for that purpose, is

The students were expecting to find Venus fly traps and orchids but there were not any in the areas where their Department of Natural Resources [DNR] permit allowed them to dig.

The plants that were moved started sprouting new leaves almost immediately, Flo said.

"Plants would normally continue to thrive without human intervention," Flo said, but added, "As the human population continues to grow, the danger continues to these plants.

"I'm glad places like Coastal teach people to be more proactive about these plants."

© Copyright 2017,, Conway, SC.