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Sarracenia

Phonetic Spelling
sair-ah-SEEN-ee-ah
Description

Pitcher plants are beautiful herbaceous perennial and carnivorous plants that are found in the wild and require specific growing conditions. Most are found in bogs or swamps. There are 15 species and subspecies in North America. They are clump-forming and grow in rosettes. Their height is variable, usually from 6 inches to 36 inches tall and up to 2 feet wide.  They are found in a wide range of colors including green, yellow, burgundy, and red, and some have red veining. The pitchers are modified leaves and serve as a trap for insects. Showy flowers bloom in the spring and maybe scented or unscented.

They are called carnivorous because they trap and kill insects. The insects are attracted to the nectar of the plant and then crawl into the pitcher. They become trapped and die. The decayed insect's nutrients are then absorbed by the plant as food.

This genus is native to North America, and most species are found in swamps or bogs in the southeastern United States. Only one species is found in the northeastern United States and southern Canada. They usually grow in areas that are seasonally flooded. It has been estimated that 97.5% of their habitats have been destroyed in the southeastern United States. They have been threatened in the wild by ongoing development; however, cultivated varieties are available.

The genus's name, Sarracenia, honors Dr. Michael Sarrazan of Quebec. In the 1700s, he sent the first pitcher plant to Europe.

Pitcher plants prefer full sun during the growing season. Some species prefer afternoon shade. 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 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.

The plant has a specialized carnivorous leaf that forms into a narrow hollow cone. The color of the pitcher varies from red, purple, white, green, yellow, copper, or multi-colored, depending on the species. The opening of the cone has a hood or lid which prevents the insect from escaping. The neck of the plant is located where the lid attaches. The neck secretes nectar that attracts the insect. The insect climbs into the pitcher to eat the nectar and then slips and falls into the pitcher. Some species also have non-carnivorous leaves in addition to the pitcher. 

The flower appears as an upside-down umbrella and is on the top of a 6- to 24-inch-tall stalk. The flower color varies from red, purple, pink, yellow, white, copper, or multicolored. Bees pollinate the flowers.

A seed pod forms at the top of the flower and matures in the fall. A dry capsule will split open and reveal 20 to 300 pear-shaped seeds. The seeds are scattered and will germinate after a period of cold stratification. 

Pitcher plants are colorful and unusual. They grow best in bog gardens; however, they may be grown in containers, terrariums, greenhouses, or as indoor houseplants. 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.

Some pitcher plants are on the endangered species list while others are on the threatened list.  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.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring      Foliage:  Spring and Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • clump-forming, growing in rosettes, from 6 to 36 inches tall and up to 2 feet wide found in swamps or bogs
  • specialized carnivorous leaf in the form of a hollow cone with a lid or hood
  • flowers are upside-down umbrellas on 6 to 24-inch stalks
  • seed pod that turns brown at maturity and releases from 20 to 300 seeds

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The plants will do poorly if their specific growing conditions are not met. The biggest mistake is to keep 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:
Pitcher Plant Planter Water Koi Pond Juniper Level Botanic Gardens: Sunken Pond Garden Juniper Level Botanic Gardens: Greenhouse Beds Juniper Level Botanic Gardens: Front Shade Garden Carnivorous Plant Garden - Stanley Rehder Wilmington, NC Juniper Level Botanic Gardens: Greenhouse Beds
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Daina's Delight'
  • 'Flora Devine'
  • Snow Goose
    White with scarlet viens
  • x wrigleyana - Scarlet Bell
'Daina's Delight', 'Flora Devine', Snow Goose, x wrigleyana - Scarlet Bell
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#specimen#carnivorous#colorful#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#terrarium#herbaceous perennials#native garden#exotic looking#container plant#landscape plant sleuths course#boggy sites
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Daina's Delight'
  • 'Flora Devine'
  • Snow Goose
    White with scarlet viens
  • x wrigleyana - Scarlet Bell
'Daina's Delight', 'Flora Devine', Snow Goose, x wrigleyana - Scarlet Bell
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#specimen#carnivorous#colorful#spring flowers#pond margins#moist soil#terrarium#herbaceous perennials#native garden#exotic looking#container plant#landscape plant sleuths course#boggy sites
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Sarracenia
    Family:
    Sarraceniaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    North America
    Distribution:
    Southern Canada and the Northeastern and the Southeastern United States
    Wildlife Value:
    Bees and other winged insects pollinate the flowers.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Carnivorous
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Native Plant
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Erect
    Maintenance:
    High
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    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:
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Moist
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Description:
    After the petals drop and if the ovary has been pollinated, it will begin to swell. The seed pod develops at the top of the flower. It takes 5 months for the seed pod to mature. It turns brown and then splits open to scatter the seeds. The dry capsule contains pear-shaped seeds anywhere from 20 to 300 seeds. The seeds are scattered and germinate after a period of cold weather.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Variegated
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Trumpet
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are showy, solitary, scented, or unscented, and measure 2 to 3 inches in diameter. They look like upside-down umbrellas and grow on 6- to 24-inch stalks. They bloom in early spring before the first pitcher is formed. The stalks are taller than the pitchers so the pollinators can reach their blooms without getting trapped. There colors vary from red, purple, pink, yellow, white, copper, or multicolored.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Variegated
    White
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Description:
    The carnivorous leaf is a narrow hollow cone known as a pitcher. The pitcher has a hood or lid that prevents the insect from escaping. At the lid attachment, there is the throat or neck which has nectar bait inside. The neck secretes the nectar which attracts the insect. The insect slips and falls into the pitcher. It is digested by the pitcher as food. The pitcher color varies from red, purple, white, green, yellow, copper, or multi-colored depending on the species. Some species also have non-carnivorous leaves.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Pollinators