Herself's Houseplants

Killing plants so you don't have to

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants ( Sarracenia )




Sarracenia May 2015

Sarracenia May 2015

Sarracenia with ants trapped inside  May 2015

Sarracenia with ants trapped inside
May 2015

wild pitcher plants ( Sarracenia )

I love carnivorous plants. There is something cool about a meat loving plant, being an omnivore myself. The eight known species of Sarracenia are native to the US and can be found in the wild through out the south east and as far west as east Texas in bogs and swamps.

Carnivorous plants all love humidity and most want lots of light. You’ll find pitcher plants don’t need as much humidity as other carnivorous plants so they are an excellent choice for a house plant. You do need to give them ample light. The most likely cause of troubles with pitcher plants grown indoors is too little light.

If you live somewhere very sunny like I do in Houston, you might want to filter the light a bit. Use the color of your plant as a guide. If they start to look pale or bleached, reduce the light. If they are not developing the reds in ones that have red, or if they are dark green, give them more light.

I went to visit a local protected wild patch of carnivorous plants a couple of weeks ago. The dirt they grow in is mostly sand but not all, some regular soil was mixed into it. It was dry at the time I visited but it is normally quite damp there.

I’ve successfully grown them in sphagnum moss; dirt; and a mix of half dirt half sand. I am now trying some in peat moss. Any combination of sphagnum, peat, sand and unfertilized soil will do.

When I lived in Boston I watered mine with tap water and rain water when available. Bottled water is just someone else’s tap water don’t bother with it. Down in Houston the water is too hard and I find I need to use distilled water.

You never ever fertilize carnivorous plants. They get what they need from the insects they consume.

They should not ever be given meat, hamburger etc. It is bugs they, need not cows. If they wanted to eat cows they would have evolved to be much larger plants. If you must feed your plant bugs, smaller is better.

If your plants are growing indoors you should add a little bit of water to the pitchers. Just a little, they don’t need much.

Many pitcher plants are not large and make excellent additions to dish gardens. They do flower indoors, flowers are unusual, and grow on long stems and hang down. All the flowers I’ve had so far have been red, green or a combination of those two colors.

In the wild the flowers appear early spring followed by pitchers. The flowers need the bugs to pollinate themselves so no point killing them for food until the pollination is accomplished. Plants go dormant in the cold weather.

pitcher-plant flower

It is not uncommon when the plants are outside to find tiny toads or frogs living in the pitchers.

Less than 3% of the native habitats of carnivorous plants are left. Which means you must be very careful buying them to be sure they are not wild plants that have been harvested. It also means to save them we want lots of people growing them.

The earliest mentions of these plants appear mid 1500s. It wasn’t until 1920 that we knew for sure the pitcher plants were eating the insects they caught.

There are eight species of Sarracenia. They are long lived perennials, leaves are arranged in rosettes. Depending on the plant type leaves may be 4″ long to 48″.

The traps attract prey with bright colors and using scent glands that are on the cover and around the upper edge of the pitcher. Under the hood are hairs angled in to help coax prey inside. The upper corner of the pitcher and bottom of lid often have translucent areas which act like stained glass. Insects see this area, think it is a way out and move towards it.

Beneath this area is a slippery area, covered with waxy cells that do not allow the prey to gain a foothold and escape.

Lastly is the digestive area. This contains water and enzymes to break down the insect into materials usable by the plant. This area contains digestive glands and hairs that help to keep the insect trapped.

Some mosquito larvae and some moth larvae are able to live in this fluid and feed off the dead insects. The adult Exyra moths are able to scale the trap walls and go from pitcher to pitcher laying one egg per trap. The moth larvae eat their way out of the trap, killing it.

You can fertilize them but only use the fertilizer at one tenth the normal dose and spray it on the leaves only. Do this no more than monthly.

Aphids, mealy bugs, scale and thrips can all be a problem for fly traps. Orthene or some other systematic insecticide is best. Follow the directions on the label.  Do not use soap based insecticides.

Black spot and other fungus can also be trouble. Captan is the favorite fungicide right now. You should be able to find it at any plant supply store.

See also:
Feeding your carnivores dried blood worms
What is that stuff in the pitcher of your pitcher plant?
Slime used to trap insects
Carnivorous plant eats mouse
The Pitcher Plant Project