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Sarracenia purpurea

Phonetic Spelling
sair-ah-SEEN-ee-ah pur-PUR-ee-ah

The Purple Pitcher plant is a compact, herbaceous, evergreen perennial and carnivorous plant in the pitcher plant family native to marshes and bogs, pinelands and wet forest floors in the eastern United States. The plant is also known as the Northern Pitcher Plant and it has a wider range than most pitcher plants including coastal Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and north to New Jersey, where it is winter hardy to USDA zone 3. 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 Purple Pitcher plant, like other pitcher plants, looks to insects for nutrients and also feeds on spiders, small frogs, mites, etc. However, it differs from others in that its upright pitcher-shaped leaves are open to the sky and collect rainwater. Insects are attracted to the leaves 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; however, cultivated varieties are available. 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.

Purple Pitcher plants prefer full sun during the growing season and full sun brings out the brightest colors in the plant. 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 Purple Pitcher plant goes dormant in the fall and dormancy continues until spring. The leaves will turn brown, but it is best to wait and remove the foliage in the spring just before the flowers emerge. 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 Purple 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.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington Container Gardens
Cultivars / Varieties:
'S. purpurea gibbosa', 'Venosa'
#specimen#carnivorous#colorful#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#NC native#herbaceous perennial#native garden#exotic looking#full sun#boggy sites
Cultivars / Varieties:
'S. purpurea gibbosa', 'Venosa'
#specimen#carnivorous#colorful#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#NC native#herbaceous perennial#native garden#exotic looking#full sun#boggy sites
  • Attributes:
    Life Cycle:
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern Canada and United States
    Labrador south to Kentucky and Florida, west to Iowa. Naturalized in central Ireland.
    Wildlife Value:
    A nectar source for insects.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Height: 0 ft. 9 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 0 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Growth Rate:
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fruit Type:
    Fruit Description:
    Each flower is replaced by a 5-celled seed capsule. Each cell of the capsule contains several small seeds with pitted surfaces.
  • 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:
    Red-purple or greenish-purple 2 1/2 inch flower hangs down on a each stem. Blooms from late spring to early summer. The flower consists of 5 persistent sepals, 5 petals, a single pistil with a large umbrella-shaped style, and numerous stamens (which are largely hidden by the odd style). The sepals and petals are usually reddish purple (rarely yellowish green), while the persistent style is yellowish green. The sepals and petals are broadly ovate. The petals curve inward, covering the style; they soon fall off the flower. In contrast, only the tips of the sepals curve inward toward the center of the flower. Hooked stigmas are located at the "spokes" of the umbrella-like style.
  • 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:
    Evergreen leaves slender at the base, widening in the middle. The highly modified leaves are tubular in shape, swollen toward the middle, and about 3 to 8 inches long. At the apex of each leaf, there is an erect flap that is open in the front; each flap has 2 lateral rounded lobes. The glabrous outer surface of each leaf is green with purple veins to reddish purple. Each leaf has a winged extension along its front where the leaf margins join to form the tubular shape. Green, variegated or suffused with reddish-purple, wide mouth lid. Deep red with prominent veining of the hood. Downward pointing spines line the throat.
  • 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
    Water Garden
    Design Feature: