Pitcherplants

Sarracenia flava growing at Forest Lane Botanicals in York Co. Virginia.

Sarracenia flava growing at Forest Lane Botanicals in York Co. Virginia.

One of our strangest and  most flamboyant native plants grows in bogs from Canada to Mississippi  along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia species and cultivars, grows in areas of poor, very moist soil.  Not always at the  coast, these bogs may be further inland, at greater altitude, and areas of scrub wherever water gathers.

Sarracenia leucophylla grows to three feet tall.  Its showiest pitchers appear in late summer and early autumn.

Sarracenia leucophylla grows to three feet tall. Its showiest pitchers appear in late summer and early autumn.

Preferring very acidic soil, pitcher plants rely on prey, rather than rich soil or fertilizer,  for their nutrition.

The beautifully colored “pitcher” is a modified leaf.  Open at the top, there is an area where sweet smelling liquid collect at the base.

Can you spot the fly on the leaf?

Can you spot the fly on the leaf?

Small insects, spiders, mites, and even small frogs and birds may be lured into the pitcher.

Once inside, sharp hairs, angled towards the base, prevent them from climbing back out.

Pitcherplants bloom each spring.

Pitcherplants bloom each spring.

The unlucky creatures fall into the pool of liquid, which slowly dissolves them.

Many beautiful varieties of Pitcherplants are available.

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I was amazed at the bright colors and intricate patterns on the Pitcherplants at Forest Lane Botanicals when we visited this week.

The Wubbels grow many different native species and hybrids.

Bog plants for sale at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Bog plants for sale at Forest Lane Botanicals.

I would definitely make any future purchases from the Wubbels, or from a nursery where I could choose my plant and bring it home.

Since liquid remains in each leaf at all times, and the leaf can dry out if the liquid is lost; this is not a plant I would want shipped if it  could be avoided.

Sarracenia flava

Sarracenia flava

Pitcher plants are very long lived perennials.  The leaves and flowers arise from an underground rhizome, which may live for more 20 years when conditions are right.

They mostly require uniformly moist soil and full sunshine.  Different varieties have specific needs, but most are hardy to at least Zone 6.

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Sarracenia purpurea, known as Purple Pitcherplant, is hardy in Zones 3-9 and is the  floral emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Plant Pitcherplants in an equal mixture of pure dampened peat moss and sand.   If potting into a free standing pot, as I did, allow for a deep saucer to always contain water, so the mix remains constantly damp.

The Wubbels had all of their Pitcher plants in plastic nursery pots, standing in pools containing several inches of water.

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If you decide to build a “bog garden,” then you might construct a suitably sized container for your situation.  It could be as small as a bowl borrowed from the kitchen, or the size of a child’s swimming pool.  You could build a bog along the edge of an existing water feature, or perhaps construct a “rain garden” with an area kept constantly wet for bog plants.

Other plants you may grow with your Pitcherplants in a bog garden include native orchids, Sundew or Dew-threads, certain Iris, and a variety of other moisture loving native flowers.

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Once established, Pitcherplants quietly take care of themselves.  So long as they are kept moist and given full sun, they will attract their own dinner.  They never need pruning.

You might clean up damaged foliage each spring, but nothing is needed beyond that.

Some species and cultivars will grow to several feet tall, and they will spread as the rhizome grows.

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When crowded, they can be gently divided like other perennials.  When cutting the rhizome into smaller sections, make sure that each section has at least one leaf.  Do this in early spring before flowers emerge.

Pitcherplants bloom, and form seed.   I was amazed at the lovely flowers on the Pitcherplants at Forest Lane Botanicals.

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The seeds need a period of cold stratification for a month or more before they will germinate.  Seeds sown outside, in moist soil, and left over the winter in the “bog” where the parents are growing will meet this requirement.

These beautiful foliage plants prefer high humidity, damp acidic soil,  and bright light.  If you can provide these conditions, then you can grow one of the most beautiful and  interesting native plants North America offers.

This is the Pitcherplant I brought home from Forest Lane Botanicals yesterday.  Planted in a mixture of peat and sand, the pot sits in a saucer filled with gravel and water.  This area gets morning sun, and stays in the sun until late in the afternoon.

This is the Pitcherplant I brought home from Forest Lane Botanicals yesterday. Planted in a mixture of peat and sand, the pot sits in a saucer filled with gravel and water. This area gets morning sun, and stays in the sun until late in the afternoon.  I plan to make a hypertufa tray to set this pot in, large enough to add a few pots, perhaps…..

Another Genus of Pitcher plant, Darlingtonia, is native to  Northern California and Oregon.  Known as a Cobra Plant due to the shape of its leaf.  There is only one species, but it easily hybridizes with Sarracenia, which makes classification of the offspring complicated.

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Other Genera are found in Australia, China, Borneo, and other warm locals around the Pacific.  All are carnivorous.

May 22. 2014 pitcherplant 003

All Photos by Woodland Gnome

Most of the photos were taken at Forest Lane Botanicals earlier this week.

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

2 responses to “Pitcherplants

  1. They’re beautiful plants. I’d plant hundreds of them if I thought they would help us with our deer fly problem. We certainly have a lot of boggy areas here at the ranch. 🙂

    • Go for it, Robin! Put them all around your outside sitting areas and let them feast! You might find some in the wild, actually, as the Delmarva is one of their areas where they are still naturalized. They are pricey to purchase ;-( but you might find a source where you can take divisions. Best wishes, WG

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