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SARRACENIA purpurea

Image of Sarracenia purpurea

James Burghardt

Family

Sarraceniaceae

Botanical Name

SARRACENIA purpurea

Plant Common Name

Purple Pitcher Plant

General Description

The bizarrely beautiful purple pitcher plant creates a rosette of squat purple pitchers perfectly designed for insect capture. This semi-evergreen perennial exists in boggy pockets from the Northwest Territories of Canada down to Florida and Texas. (Adjunct populations also exist in California.) It is semi-evergreen, and only drought, extreme cold, and fire will send it into full dormancy. There are four Sarracenia purpurea subspecies which vary in color, size and hardiness. Many have been crossed to create magnificent ornamental hybrids.

Growing from short, thick rhizomes (underground stems), purple pitcher plant has a whorl of pitcher-like leaf bodies that may be green, purple or yellow-green with ornate contrasting venation. The pitchers are short and backed with frilled, heavily veined “hoods” that surround the lip of the pitcher. Each pronounced lip produces sweet, viscous secretions that attract insect prey. When insects land on the lip rims, they fall down into the pitcher traps, which are filled with secretions and lined with downward-facing hairs that keep prey from escaping. Once inside the pitchers, the insects drown and are broken down and digested for their nutritive value. Like all plants, Sarracenia get all needed energy from the sun, but they grow in boggy, nutrient-poor soils, so it's the essential nutrients the insects provide that ensures continued plant growth and good health.

In spring, a singular stem rises from each plant base to reveal a large, downward facing flower that resembles an umbrella. The red, purplish red or greenish flowers have three conspicuous bracts as well as five showy petals and sepals. The blooms are insect-pollinated. After pollination, the bracts persist until the seeds within are fully developed. This can take as long as six months. Pitchers remain productive for about two years before finally degrading and allowing the current season's pitchers to grow and continue the expansion of the colony.

Grow purple pitcher plant in moist or wet, nutrient-poor, acid soil high in peat. Full to partial sun is preferred. Container-grown specimens should be watered with non-chlorinated water (collected rainwater works best). Replenish water regularly to avoid stagnation. Containers with drain holes should be placed in trays of purified water. Purple pitcher plant is very cold hardy and requires cold winters to thrive. Even southerly plants require a period of cold to bloom and grow, so be sure to provide terrarium specimens at least three months of needed seasonal cold.

Two natural varieties of purple pitcher plants exist, most readily distinguished by their native geographical ranges. Variety purpurea grows from Canada southward to the cooler mountain elevations of Georgia and North Carolina, and is more tolerant of and requires more cold in winter. Converserly, milder winters are experienced by variety venosa, which grows from the Carolina Piedmont south to southeastern Georgia in the lower elevation coastal plain. This variety's pitchers are notably fuzzy and shorter.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    10 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    3 - 10

  • Plant Type

    Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    4"-10" / 10.2cm - 25.4cm (6)

  • Width

    4"-12" / 10.2cm - 30.5cm

  • Bloom Time

    Spring, Late Spring

  • Native To

    North America, United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, South-Central United States, Northwestern United States, California, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water, Ample Water

  • Habit

    Rosette/Stemless

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Red, Green, Purple, Yellow Green, Rose, Dark Red

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Purple, Light Green, Burgundy, Plum

  • Foliage Color (Spring) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Purple, Light Green, Burgundy, Plum

  • Foliage Color (Summer) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Purple, Light Green, Burgundy, Plum

  • Foliage Color (Fall) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Red, Green, Purple, Burgundy, Plum

  • Foliage Color (Winter) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Semi-Evergreen

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Bog Garden, Container, Feature Plant, Houseplant

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes