- Sarracenia, from the Latin
- purpurea, from the Latin, "purple"
- Common Name, from the unusual shape of the leaf and its capacity
for holding water.
- Other common names include Common Pitcher Plant, Purple Pitcher-Plant,
Flytrap, Sidesaddle Plant, Huntsman's Cup, Frog's Britches
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
- Subclass Dilleniidae
- Order Nepenthales
- Family Sarraceniaceae, the New World Pitcher Plants;
3 genera and 15 species of perennial herbs
- Genus Sarracenia, the Pitcher Plants
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 21993
- A native, perennial, carnivorous herb.
- Leaves evergreen, modified into pitchers and arranged in a
rosette. Pitchers curved and decumbent, to 17" and widening prominently
toward the mouth. Hood on the pitcher positioned vertically; the pitcher
usually being full or partly full of rainwater. Leaf color from bright
yellow-green to dark purple and most commonly a middle variation with
strong red venation. The leaves, or pitchers, are produced each year
from stems arising from the rhizomes and remain evergreen unless unduly
- The leaf edges have curled around and fused to form a liquid-holding
vessel, similar in shape to a cornucopia. The leaves grow from a basal
rosette and a "keel" provides structural reinforcement to each leaf
so that the opening is always upright. The modified leaves perform the
task of taking in nutrients required for photosynthesis.
Flower petals, sepals, and bracts rose
pink to dark red. Flowers solitary, on a leafless stem, 1'-2', arising
from the rhizome.
- Fruit a capsule with laterally winged seeds.
- Rhizomes under soil may live 20-30 years.
- Root systems of carnivorous plants tend to be weak and poorly
developed. Since the roots function almost entirely as support, the
highly acidic bog water doesn't seem to bother them.
- Insects are attracted to the colorful leaf rosettes that resemble
flowers; the red lip of the "pitcher" is particularly attractive as
a landing zone. Red veins that lead downward are baited with nectar.
Following this lure, prey reach the curve of the tube, which is lined
with fine hairs, all pointing downward. The animal falls into the pitcher,
which contains rain, dew, and a digestive enzyme that soon dissolves
- Classified as carnivorous rather than insectivorous because consumption
includes not only insects but also isopods, mites, spiders, and the
occasional small frog. While a diet of meat helps the plants remain
vigorous, grow larger, and produce more flowers, it does not appear
essential for the survival of individual plants. This unusual life style
has evolved as a means of obtaining nutrients in places otherwise deficient
in them. In addition to phosphorus and nitrogen, pitcher plants obtain
vitamins and other trace minerals from their prey.
- Unmistakable; nothing else like it in the North Country
- Field Marks: upright, tubular, purplish leaf
- Florida to Mississippi, north to Virginia and Maryland, west to Iowa,
and north to Manitoba, Hudson Bay, and Labrador.
- Bogs, savannas, and flat woods. The very wettest parts of bogs are
favored, often restricting the species to the edges of bogs. Forms dense,
floating mats on the water at the edges of bog ponds and lakes and across
- Adapted to poor soils deficient in trace elements such as molybdenum.
These elements may be obtained from captured insects and amphibians.
Soils usually highly acidic and unsuitable for many other plants. However,
does not require acidic soils for growth, and occasionally occurs in
alkaline marl bogs around the Great Lakes.
- Plant succession on bogs is toward a sedge-woody species dominated
community. Fire, however, retards this succession and pitcher plant
bogs are thought to be fire disclimaxes.
- Several bog species, including Pitcher Plant, have been successfully
transplanted to damaged areas using "living mats" from unaffected
areas of the bog. Mats included Sphagnum Mosses, Small Cranberry (Vaccinium
oxycoccos), Pitcher Plant, Spatula Leaf Sundew (Drosera intermedia),
and Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne
- Usually top-killed by fire, but survives by resprouting from underground
rhizomes. Severe fires may burn into the peat layer and destroy the
rhizomes, killing the entire plant.
- Periodic, moderate fires are necessary to reduce the encroachment
of competing plants and stimulate growth by releasing nutrients bound
up in organic matter. Fire suppression also leads to less frequent,
severe fires which damage species normally considered to be fire tolerant.
Fire is a natural event in carnivorous plant habitats.
- Trees: Tamarack (Larix
laricina), Black Spruce (Picea
- Shrubs: Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne
calyculata), Small Cranberry (Vaccinium
- Herbs: Narrow Leaf Sundew (Drosera
intermedia), Roundleaf Sundew (Drosera
- Ground Covers: Sphagnum Mosses (Sphagnum spp.)
- Insects: Although carnivorous, is beneficial to several insect
species. Ants, wasps, bees, butterflies, and moths are attracted to
pitcher-plant by its nectar. Beetles and spiders visit the plants to
prey on other insects. Spiders may spin a web inside the pitcher to
catch insects which fall inside. Some flies live in the pitchers, feeding
on decomposing insects. The larvae of a small, nonbiting mosquito (Wyeomyia
smithii) live only in the liquid held by pitcher-plant. Unlike most
insects, these larvae are neither killed nor digested in the pitcher
fluid. A large number of grasshoppers, crickets, and snails are captured.
- Reproduction typically by seed but may also occur by fragmentation
- Bees are the main pollinators. Though normally polytropic, during
the peak of Sarracenia flowering, the bees are effectively monotropic,
visiting only Sarracenia species, at least where there are large
stands of flowers.
- Bare ground is vital for seedling establishment
- By seed, following cold stratification.
- Fastest establishment is from nursery stock. Set the plants in a
bog so that their roots reach down to the moisture but the top of the
roots rests at water level.
- Can also be grown from seeds, sown as soon as they are ripe, in a
mixture of equal parts of sand and peat moss. Seeds germinate in about
a month, but plants grown from seed take three to five years to flower.
Stand each pot in a dish of water and enclose both dish and pot in a
plastic bag so that seeds do not dry out. When the seedlings are well
established, set them outdoors in the bog.
- Can also be propagated by division in the spring.
- Collection of wild Pitcher Plants for sale has resulted in localized
extinction in some areas. A number of dealers currently specialize in
cultivating carnivorous plants, but collecting is still a problem, since
it is less costly.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
- Cultural Requirements
- Sun full
- Soil rich in peat or sphagnum moss, pH of 4.5-5.5
- Fertilization not recommended
- Good for bog gardens, indoor terrariums
- Available by mail order from specialty suppliers
- Larvae of several moth species feed on or burrow in Pitcher Plant,
sometimes infesting large areas and severely damaging the population.
Highly infested stands are frequently those protected from fire.
Last updated on
26 February, 2004