Carnivores in the Garden: Sarracenia Pitcher Plants
A most intriguing aspect of nature is a plant that eats like an animal. Sarracenia are a type of carnivorous plant whose dining behavior is as stunningly exotic as their appearance. The best part of Sarracenia is that it is a variety of pitcher plant that can be grown from Canada southward to Florida, so you can marvel at their eating habits, sculptured bloom and wild colors right in your own garden. The subsequent article discusses major aspects of these pitcher plants and describes how gardeners can best cultivate them in their own landscape.
Let's start with the most exciting aspect of these gorgeous plants - what they eat! When their exotic petals unfold in full sunlight, their hunger is often satisfied by munching through many numbers of wasps, flies, blowflies and ants. Only ten families of flowering plants are known to be carnivores. Of these, Sarracenia pitcher plants offer some of the most visually stunning "traps" for attracting insects. To put it simply, researchers believe that their ability to eat insects allowed them to thrive in soils with poor nutrient content, so they are somewhat hardy in a sense; they are certainly adaptive. While they derive their energy from the sun like other plants, they get their nutrients from the insects they eat.
The characteristic pitcher or hood of the plant is built to shed rain but is filled with tiny hairs that encourage insects ever downward. The inside of the hood is equally as attractive as the outside, presumably to attract insects as well.
Moving southward in the plant, the hood is followed by the mouth and neck. The Yellow Pitcher's neck contains a narcotic that paralyses the prey. As the insect moves downward, it encounters digestive fluids and then the digestion area. The large trap of the Yellow Pitcher could potentially house the remains of a thousand flies and wasps - sometimes even frogs!
There are roughly ten species in the Sarracenia family, all occurring in the U.S., except for the Purple Pitcher which can be found as far north as southern Canada. In the wild, Sarracenia are most frequently found in the southeast portion of the country from Virginia to eastern Texas, but they can tolerate most other areas just fine. The Sarracenia family includes the Purple Pitcher, Green Pitcher, Parrot Pitcher, White Pitcher, Hooded Pitcher, Yellow Pitcher, Canebreak Pitcher, Mountain Pitcher, Pale Pitcher and Sweet Pitcher.
Sarracenia are the easiest carnivorous plants to grow in the garden. They may be grown in pots or in the garden soil. All species of this plant require an adequate amount of peat in the soil. Some gardeners add sphagnum moss, river sand or even gravel to their soil, as well as perlite or vermiculite. Peat is the essential element, however. Sarracenia also need soft water, so flushing them out with distilled water from time to time (especially after heavy rains) is beneficial. If you have a bog garden, you have the ideal setting for growing these lovelies. In any case, the plant should be placed at a soil depth of about six inches. Planting two species close together where their flowering times overlap will almost certainly lead to hybrids that can also add stunning interest to the garden.
When cut, pitcher plants will last rather a long time, relatively speaking, in the vase. Try adding an aspirin to the water to cut down on bacterial growth, and your pitcher plant will last even longer. The best cutting time depends on the species in question. Young plants are seldom good for cutting as their hoods are too soft to be attractive for the vase.
As wild pitcher plants continue to lose their real estate to development, entertaining their growth in private gardens is an environmentally friendly way to care for this wonder of the natural world. And of course, they'll pay you back for your kindness by eliminating thousands of insect pests every season.