Pitcher plant – a Fascinating Insect Hunter

Few people would associate a plant, not even the one called Pitcher plant, with any kind of hunting! This activity itself implies movements, stalking, or other dynamics completely uncharacteristic for plants! 

Yet, in an almost infinitely diverse plant world, a group of plants cannot use soil nutrients through the photosynthesis process. They usually grow in nitrate-poor areas, solving this problem by exploiting these compounds from animal proteins. Therefore, they base their survival on what they capture and digest!

One of these truly fascinating plants is the Pitcher plant, a plant with the Latin name Sarracenia from the carnivorous genus of the same name.

What are Carnivorous Plants?

As far back as 1856, Charles Darwin, in his work ”Insectivorous Plants”, described a small group of plants that, modified their leaves, turning them into specialized organs or traps for catching insects. 

Some plants, such as the well-known Venus flytrap, actively do this. The active trap means catching the prey by sudden leaf motion. Once captured among the leaves the victim will be decomposed with the help of digestive juices.

The second group of carnivores consists of so-called passive hunters that do not move. These plants developed the leaf structure resembling a jug or funnel. The specialized tubular leaves lure the insect into the tube. Once inside the slippery trap, the insect can no longer get out. Glands located at the bottom of the jug secrete juices to decompose the prey.

The passive-hunter group includes plants from the genera Sarraceniaceae and Nepenthaceae, both with pitcher-shaped leaves, after which they got the name.

Name and Origin of Pitcher Plant 

The genus Sarracenia includes native plants from North America that grow in moist habitats from Canada to Texas. Due to the origin they are called New World Trumpet Pitcher plants or North American Pitcher plants.

The botanical name of this plant was given in honor of Dr. Michael Sarrazin, an 18th-century Canadian botanist from Quebec.

What is the Sarracenia Pitcher plant?

The Sarracenia Pitcher Plant is a perennial, rosette-forming herbaceous plant with rhizome roots that, depending on the species, can grow from 6 inches to over 36 inches in height.

With their beautiful, pitcher-like leaves, they can catch thousands of insects, mainly ants, flies, and wasps. Like most carnivores, sarracenia attract the pray with nectar at the very edge of the trap. An umbrella-shaped lid prevents water from accumulating inside the tube and serves as a landing path for insects. 

Sarracenia Pitcher Plant flowers

Sarracenia is a blooming plant with flowers resembling an open umbrella. They grow on an upright, single, up to 35 inches long stem, rising above the leaf rosette. 

This elevated formation is ingeniously functional because it allows bees and other insects to pollinate the plant while avoiding the fatal trap of leaves and ending up as its meal!

The flowering phase usually lasts for several weeks in April and May. After pollination, the plant forms capsules with wax-coated seeds that provide a new generation of these amazing plants.

The flowers are very attractive and, depending on the species, can be purple, white, red, burgundy, yellow, or pink.

In some species, the flowers even have a pleasant sweet scent, but some species, unfortunately, have an odor similar to cat urine.

Sarracenia Dormant phase

Like many other herbaceous perennials from the northern hemisphere, Sarracenia enters the dormant phase during the colder and darker part of the year.

It means that only the root, or the underground part of the plant, will survive the winter. As early as the end of September, the plant stops giving new tubers, and those grown earlier gradually withered. With a drop in temperature, the above-ground segments partly or completely disappear. However the plant’s roots remain alive, reducing all vital functions to a minimum. 

Then, at the end of winter, when the temperature rises again and the day gets longer, the plant wakes up, ready for a new growing season.

The dormant phase is an indispensable part of the annual cycle of Sarracenia. It usually lasts about three months, during which the plant rests and gathers strength for the new season. Indoor plants in this period are best stored in a cool bright place such as an unheated hallway or porch area.

Saracenia Toxicity

Generally, sarracenia is not a poisonous plant and is not harmful to humans or pets. However, the leaves of some species, such as Sarracenia Minor, contain small amounts of toxic coniine, Yet, the concentration of this poison is not so high as to cause serious problems.

Sarracenia species

The genus Sarracenia includes eight species that differ in pitcher morphology, size, or color. Of course, this lately increasingly popular plant has numerous cultivars and hybrids, but we will mention here only the basic ones.

Purple Pitcher Plant ( Sarracenia Purpurea)

The easiest-to-grow and the most cold-tolerant ( zone 2a to 9), Sarracenia Purple is one of the most spectacular pitcher plants too! Its red pitchers with pronounced darker veins turn a dark, blood red in the end of the season. It forms one-foot clump of laying, upward facing pitchers. The bonus attraction are spring-born dark red flowers. 

Yellow Trumpet Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Flava)

Yellow trumpet pitcher bears the name due to the yellow hue of the leaves and golden yellow flowers emerging during the spring. The pitchers can grow 30 inches tall and have two inches wide opening.

Sweet Trumpets Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Rubra)

The East coast native Pitcher plant produces a masse of small upright 0,5 inches wide and 12 inches tall green pitchers with a light red hood during the entire season. The flowers, also red, grow above the foliage during the spring.

Pale Trumpets Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Alata)

Native to moist bogs in Alabama west to Texas, Pale trumpet forms two- feet tall yellow pitchers in early spring. It has a slightly rounded hood and unusual, creamy-yellow flowers that grow on 18 inches tall stalks in early spring. 

White trumpets Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Leucophylla),

The plant is nantiv in Georgia and Florida and has spectacular two feet tall pitcher in green and reddish color with unique two inches wide white opening with red veis.In spring the gorgeous plant gives alluring red flowers. 

Mountain Erumpets (Sarracenia Oreophila)

This is a rare and endangered species that grows naturally in sandy, clay soli, in mountain woodlands in the Cumberland plateau (Tennessee south to Alabama). Unlike most other species, the plant is dormant in summer when the growing area is completely dry. It activates active in autumn and when the environment is humid and rich in running water. The plant forms one-foot long yellow pitchers, followed by small yellow flowers.

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Minor)

The gorgeous hooded pitcher plant has extraordinary holes ( areoles) on the neck of a one-foot-tall pitcher, covered by a curved green hood! If you add yellow flowers, you will get a spectacular plant that is hard not to notice.

Parrot Pitcher Plant (Sarsacenia Psittacina)

his East Coast native is the really fascinating member of the pitcher plant family As it name says the plant has green parrot-shaped leaves with red wines. The foliage lie on the ground forming almost perfect cycles. It is one of the smallest pitcher plants with the diameter of only 12 inches. In early spring above the leaves the red umbrella-like flowers appear. 

How to Grow the Sarracenia Pitcher Plant?

Despite its exotic and extravagant appearance, the Sarracenia is not an overly demanding plant to grow. If you provide it with the right conditions, you can effortlessly grow it as a potted plant in the house or on the balcony, or as an eye-catching garden plant.

Soil requirements

In its natural environment, sarracenia grows on sandy, swampy, and peat soils with an acidic pH reaction( between pH 3,0 and 5,0), so you need to provide such a substrate when planting it in a pot or garden.

You can buy a ready-made mixture for carnivorous plants composed of elements that provide optimal conditions for growing sarracenia.

However, if you cannot get such a mixture, this is not a reason to give up growing these spectacular plants! You could make a homemade blend of equal parts of perlite and sphagnum peat moss. Alternatively, instead of perlite, you can use lime-free horticultural sand. 

The bottom line is that you provide a zero-nutrient substrate. Unlike the vast majority of other plants, the root of this plant decays in a nutrient-rich substrate. Remember, sarracenia feeds differently, so the rootball cannot utilize nutrients from the soil!

Water Requirements

Moisture in the air and the soil is a vital factor in the growth of sarracenia. Like all other wetland plants, in a dry substrate, the plant decays rapidly. Therefore you should never let the substate dry. 

Growing it in the garden, on the shores of a garden pond, or in an area that you can water abundantly and often are ideal positions.

If growing it in a pot, provide a deeper tray filled with water all the time, all year round. Then, instead of watering the plant in the pot, add water to the tray. In this way, thanks to diffusion, you will provide constant moisture to the substrate.

No tap water!

Sarracenia cannot tolerate water that contains chlorine or other chemicals present in tap water. Therefore, you can water it exclusively with rainwater, which is naturally acidic or neutral, like distilled water. 

The use of tap water is a recipe for disaster since alkaline water will gradually destroy the plant and eventually lead to its decay!

Light requirements

In the wild, sarracenia grows in plain sight in areas where frequent fires caused by lightning often destroy tall vegetation and trees. Due to such an environment, this plant is used to being exposed to direct sunlight.

Therefore, provide it with a position on the sunny south window or on the south side of the balcony where it will get at least four hours of direct sunlight daily and lots of bright indirect light for the rest of the day.

Plant it in the sunniest place in the garden because it does not mind all-day sun exposure! Moreover, plants that do not have enough light lose their color become weak, and eventually wither.

Pitcher Plant Temperature Range

Since Sarracenia is an indigenous plant from the northern hemisphere, it is frost tolerant in climate zones 5 to 9. Some species can also grow in climate zone 3 or 4 if their root is covered with a layer of mulch in the winter to prevent freezing. In general, all species can withstand winter temperatures of 20 F.

In the growth phase, sarracenia thrives best at temperatures between 65 and 80F.

No Fiding and Fertilizing

For proper and successful cultivation of any houseplant, even the most modest ones such as succulents or cacti, you need to ensure that they have enough nutrients! So, applying adequate fertilizer is more or less a standard care procedure. However, it does not work with Sarracenia since this plant can survive without your help! 

So, please don’t use fertilizer because it will only retaliate! This plant lives from what it catches, and some careless insect will certainly sooner or later show interest in your plant! And don’t take its carnivore name literally and try to feed the plant by putting even tiny pieces of meat in the pitcher!

Pitcher Plant Repotting and Plant Dividing

If you grow a potted pitcher plant, it will outgrow the pot after two or three years. When it happens it is necessary to either transplant it into a larger one or divide the rosette. If you opt for plant dividing, the best time for the process is early spring, when the plant wakes up after dormancy. 

Here is the step by step procedure:

  • 1. Carefully remove the plant together with the lump of the substrate in which it grows.
  • 2. Shake off excess substrate so you can better inspect the root. Find where the old and the new rhizome meet and separate the parts with hands, sterilized knives, or scissors so that each segment has a few fresh leaves.
  • 3. Plant the separated components in special containers filled with a mixture of peat moss and perlite (or sharp sand) in a ratio of 1: 1.
  • 4. If the plant has last year’s leaves or those just growing, cut them by two-thirds and water the new sarracenia abundantly.

After the process, the plant will need some time to recover from the stress but will soon start to grow and give new leaves.

And one more note: when choosing a container for Sarracenia, choose a deep, plastic, or glazed ceramic container. Non-glazed ceramics absorb water, making life bitter for this great lover of moisture.

Sarracenia Pitcher Plant Problems and Diseases

When growing a Pitcher plant, most problems are due to either an unsuitable environment or inadequate plant treatment.

Environmental problems

Environmental problems include a lack of moisture in the soil or air, making it difficult for the plant to function. Even when dormant, potted sarracenia should have water in the tray! In addition, the water that evaporates from the saucer around the plant changes the microclimatic conditions, providing a suitable moisture atmosphere!

Fungal diseases

Adding a liquid or other fertilizer to the growing substrate, despite your good intentions, usually ends in fungal diseases. The most common is Fusarium infection. Namely, this plant is adapted to live based on low nutritional value, so the intake of fertilizers stimulates natural soil-borne spores of fungi instead of feeding.

Yellow, Unhealthy Leaves

If your indoor sarracenia has yellow and unhealthy leaves, it may be hungry. Probably there are not enough insects in the environment to satisfy its hunger!

In that case, you can give your plant a small amount of liquid fertilizer for bromeliads diluted with water in 1: 4. You can pour the prepared solution directly into the pitcher or mist the plant.

However, a safer option is to give your plants a few insects, but not those you killed with an insecticide!

Pitcher plant Pests

It probably sounds paradoxical that an insect-eating plant can be a target of harmful insects. Yet, it can happen! Sarracenia cannot defend itself from tiny pests that multiply quickly and attack the plant in large numbers. 

Spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids will not bypass Sarracenia! These hard-to notice creatures remain on the outside of its leaves, sucking plant sap and causing the foliage to twist and turn yellow.


If you notice these uninvited guests, the first step is to wash the plant under running water. It may physically remove the intruders. If that doesn’t help, you can spray the leaves with a mild neem oil solution avoiding the tube openings. Again, the goal is to eliminate pests but not a potential meal!

Final Thought
Despite their alien appearance, these unusual plants still do not look like carnivorous plants from SF movies that will bite off your finger if you touch them with your hand!
Sarracenia is, in fact, a masterpiece of adaptation in which life has managed to find a way to overcome unfavorable conditions. Unfortunately, as their natural habitats dry up and turn into agricultural land, fewer and fewer are in the wild.

You may not be able to influence the preservation of their habitat, but the next time you see this fascinating plant on sale, don’t leave it on the shelf! Instead, share your home with them because that is how you could help preserve this species. In addition, you will have an attractive insect catcher designed by Mother Nature herself!