Plant Common Name
Purple Pitcher Plant
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.