Plant life: Several coastal ecosystems are present in the park. Forests dominated by longleaf pine, turkey oak and live oak occupy the dry, coarse soil of a series of relict sand dunes. Between the dunes are dense shrub swamps, called pocosins, populated by pond pines, loblolly and sweet bay, yaupon and evergreen shrubs. Brackish marshes consisting primarily of cordgrasses and sedges can be found beyond the relict dunes adjacent to the river.
Three limesink ponds, each vegetated by a unique plant community, are found in the park. Cypress Pond, the most unusual limesink pond in the park, is dominated by a dwarf cypress swamp forest. Lily Pond is occupied by the broad, oval leaves and beautiful, white flowers of water lilies, which cover its waters in early summer. Grass Pond, which dries out almost every year, is filled with a variety of aquatic sedges. Carnivorous plants thrive in the boggy soil around its edge and in the park's acidic, mineral-poor soil.
Several interesting carnivorous plants thrive at Carolina Beach State Park by trapping and digesting insects. Among these carnivorous plants are pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews and butterworts, but the most familiar—and the most spectacular—is the Venus flytrap.
With the appearance of a clam shell, the trap is actually a modified leaf. Its interior may be colored pale yellow to bright red. When its trigger hairs are touched by an insect, the halves close and the guard hairs mesh, entrapping its prey. The plant then secretes digestive fluids and, within three to five days, nutrients from the prey are absorbed and the trap reopens. Each trap dies after closing and opening three times. Throughout the growing season, new traps emerge from underground stems to replace those that have died.
Venus flytraps are native only within 60 to 75 miles of Wilmington. New propagation methods have saved the flytrap from becoming an endangered species. However, their numbers are declining due to the destruction of their habitats. Controlled burning is beneficial to flytraps, as well as other kinds of carnivorous plants, as it discourages competing species.
Venus flytraps may be purchased at many retail nurseries. Help preserve this unique plant; do not remove the flytrap from the park.
Animal life: Carolina Beach State Park is a great place for bird watching. Brown pelicans thrive in the coastal environment, and warblers, finches and woodpeckers fill the woods. In summer, painted buntings, yellowthroats and prairie warblers can be seen in the forest while ospreys populate Snow's Cut. Besides providing habitat for resident land birds during the winter and summer, Carolina Beach State Park also is located along an important migration corridor and attracts many birds during their migrations.
The small ponds in the park are home to several frog species. Carolina anoles, five-lined skinks, six-lined racerunners and various snake species are also found. Occasionally, an alligator will wander into the marina. White-tailed deer, raccoons and gray squirrels are abundant, and opossums, cottontails and other animals common to the southern coastal plain may be seen along with an occasional fox squirrel, gray fox or river otter.