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Southern Pitcher Plant Sarracenia purpurea subsp. venosa

Other Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Sarracenia parviflora
  • Sarracenia purpurea var. venosa
  • Sarracenia venosa
Phonetic Spelling
sar-uh-SEN-ee-uh pur-PUR-ee-uh ven-OH-suh

The Southern Pitcher Plant is a subspecies of the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). It is a compact, herbaceous, evergreen perennial and carnivorous plant in the pitcher plant family native to marshes and bogs, pinelands and wet forest floors on the coastal plain from the New Jersey Pine Barrens south to Georgia and west from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana. In pine forests, it can be found in areas that are not dense with pine, but with meadow-like openings. Typically, these openings will be waterlogged due to dense soils that lead to high acid in the soil and low nitrogen. The Southern Pitcher Plant, like other pitcher plants, looks to insects for nutrients and also feeds on spiders, small frogs, mites, etc. However, like its parent, it differs from other pitcher plants in that its upright pitcher-shaped leaves are open to the sky and collect rainwater. Insects are attracted by the color of the leaves and by droplets of nectar on the rim and upper portion of the leaf and the water below.  As the insect makes its way to the water, it will encounter downward-pointing hairs that prevent the insect from exiting and they eventually fall into the pool below and drown. The water pool contains insect-digesting enzymes that assist the plant in digesting the insect. Ironically, the plant is pollinated by the Pitcher Plant Fly (Fletcherimyia fletcheri) whose larvae live in the fluid of the pitcher plant leaves and dine on some of the trapped insects.

It has been estimated that 97.5% of pitcher plant habitats have been destroyed in the southeastern United States. They have been threatened in the wild by ongoing development. There are many cultivars of this plant available but only Sarracenia purpurea is listed in the trade. These plants are threatened by habitat loss, development, and over-collection. Never harvest these plants from the wild. They are best purchased from a reputable carnivorous plant nursery. The genus's name, Sarracenia, honors Dr. Michael Sarrazan of Quebec. In the 1700s, he sent the first pitcher plant to Europe. The species name purpurea means "purple", in reference to the color of the flowers and pitchers. The infra-species name venosa means "distinctly veined".

Southern Pitcher plants prefer full sun during the growing season and full sun brings out the brightest colors in the plant. As its common name implies, the Southern Pitcher plant tolerates heat, but is sensitive to drought. The flowers of this plant hang at the tip of its leafless stems and each stem will have a single flower, which are large in comparison to the leaves. These plants have very specific requirements and are most often grown in a prepared bog garden or in containers where their environment can be controlled. They require moist to wet, acidic soils of sand and peat, but mostly sand. This plant does not like fertilizers and is sensitive to dissolved salts in chlorinated water. Rainwater or distilled water may be used in place of tap water for container plants. The plants should not be manually fed or given food scraps. The plant cannot digest fats, and fertilizers can burn the plant. The Southern Pitcher plant goes dormant in the fall and dormancy continues until spring. The leaves will turn brown, but new pitcher leaves appear in spring and summer replacing old leaves that die and fall off. Growing them outdoors can be difficult because moist conditions must be maintained at all times. Indoors they require sun for the growing season and then winter dormancy. Whether grown in a bog garden or in containers the plant requirements must be maintained to be successful. The root system consists of a short crown with shallow fibrous roots and slender rhizomes. Offsets from the rhizomes create small colonies of plants. Individual plants can live 50 years or more.

Insects, Diseases and Other Plant Problems:  

The Southern Pitcher plant will do poorly if its specific growing conditions are not met. The biggest mistake is keeping the plant too wet. They must be protected from freezing winds. Monitor for aphids, scale, mealybugs, moth larvae, leaf spots, and root rot.

 VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

More information on Sarracenia purpurea.

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See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
#specimen#moth caterpillar host#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#NC native#herbaceous perennial#exotic looking#pollinator plant#larval host plant#Coastal OBL#food source herbage#food source pollen#Piedmont Mountains OBL#wet soils tolerant#food source soft mast fruit#native carnivorus plant#Audubon#full sun#boggy sites
Cultivars / Varieties:
#specimen#moth caterpillar host#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#NC native#herbaceous perennial#exotic looking#pollinator plant#larval host plant#Coastal OBL#food source herbage#food source pollen#Piedmont Mountains OBL#wet soils tolerant#food source soft mast fruit#native carnivorus plant#Audubon#full sun#boggy sites
  • Attributes:
    Life Cycle:
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    North Carolina to Georgia
    Florida Panhandle and Louisiana
    Wildlife Value:
    A nectar source for insects.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 4 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 0 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Native Plant
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Growth Rate:
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fruit Type:
    Fruit Description:
    Each flower is followed by a 5-parted seed capsule. Fruits are available June-July.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Flower Shape:
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Colored Sepals
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Flowers are reddish-purple in color and bloom April-May. A single flower sits on a leafless, 8 to 15 inch stalk well above the leaves. Flower stalks are crooked at the top, and the globular, 5-petaled, 2 inch red flower hangs down. Flowers may be mildly aromatic.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Leaf Type:
    Hairs Present:
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Modified leaves form a basal rosette of decumbent to upright 4 to 10 inch pitchers with upward-facing open ends and a layer of fine hairs on the outer surface. The length of the pitcher is typically less than three times the diameter of the opening. The pitcher color is usually green with purple-burgundy near the flared lip and a prominent net-like pattern of veins.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Green to reddish purple, 8 to 20 inch naked stalks, each with a single nodding flower at its apex.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Water Garden
    Design Feature:
    Resistance To Challenges: