Naturally occuring in humid bogs, swamps, and wet meadows, Sarracenia purpurea is well adapted to cope with nutrient poor environments. The purple pitcher plant, as well as other pitchers, venus fly traps, and sundews, are carnivores that attract small insects and arthropods to their modified leaves. Unlike venus fly traps, whose leaves are modified to ensnare and puncture prey, and sundews, which have long, sticky tendrils that capture and entangle prey, pitcher plants lure insects to their traps with a sweet nectar near the base of the trap. When insects delve deeper in search of food, they often fall into a small pool of liquid(called phytotelm) . Once inside, the pitcher plant releases digestive juices to break down the insects. Once broken down, the pitcher absorbs essential vitamins and minerals from its prey (the essential chemical derived from insects is primarily Nitrogen, which is often absent or in low amounts in most bogs).
The purple pitcher plant is unique among pitchers, as its range extends the further of any known pitcher plant. Additionally, this type of pitcher consumes the largest prey of any plant species (including slugs, snails, grasshoppers, and crickets), despite ants constitute a vast majority of prey. Although most prey doesn’t fall into the liquid death trap, there odds of escape are extremely low.
Sarracenia purpurea (Purple Pitcher Plant, Huntsman’s Cup, Huntsman’s Horn)
Hardiness Zones: 6-8
Height: Leaves grow up to 45 centimeters (18 inches) tall; flowers grow from 30-80 centimeters ( 11-31 inches) tall
Diameter: unspecific, the modified leaves form a rosette from a rhizome (typical rosettes are 0.3 meters (1 foot) in diameter)
Growth Rate: moderately slow
Age: One plant can live up to 30 years under very ideal conditions.
Root System: Rhizomes can live for 20-30 years, although they function primarily as support since its native soils offer few nutrients.
Subspecies: ‘Purpurea’ (common in northern range, sometimes referred to as ‘Gibbosa’), ‘Venosa’ (common in southern range), ‘Rosea’ (has pinkish flowers), ‘Montana’
Tolerates: Poor soil conditions, few available nutrients (Native environments are low in Nitrogen.)
Problems (major): Requires seasonal temperature fluxuations to survive (I beleive it has something to do with phytotelm pH, although I am uncertain at this point in time), available insects and other prey,
Problems (minor): Hand-feeding pitchers may be required due to low capture-rates (flies or ants are suitable Nitrogen sources).
Poisonous: presumably no
Soil requirements: As strange as it sounds, the soil should be moderately poor in nutrient quality. Adapted to living in places where nutrients are scarce led to the adaptation of these plants becoming carnivores. Therefore, nutrients in a great supply will overlead the plant and may kill it. Peat moss or sphagnum are ideal soils.
Air Requirements: humid (not effectively researched in depth)
Watering requirement: Water should be as pure as possible for ideal growth. Living in bogs and swamps, nutrients tend to be in short supply.
Sun requirement: Full sun, part shade causes discoloration and drooping leaves.
Annual/Biennial/Perennial: Perennial, although some leaves (the ‘pitcher’ parts) are biennial
Flowering: occurs in May-June, flowers range from 30-80 centimeters tall with 5 green sepals, 3-4 bracts, and 5 obovate (egg-shaped) petals around 5 centimeters long
Common prey: Unlike most other carniveous plants, the purple pitcher plant can consume grasshoppers, crickets, snails, and slugs. Typical small insects, such as ants and other petite arthropods, commonly serve as food for carnivorous plants. On rare occasion, tiny amphibians or reptiles will be trapped in the digestive juices inside one of the modified leaves.
Type of carnivorous plant: Pitcher-plant (shaped like a cobra with digestive juices inside the modified leaves)
Time required to consume prey: not sufficiently researched
Sphagnum/peat moss preferred: either provide adequete growth
Symbiotic/Mutualistic relationships: Some spiders create webs inside the pitcher’s leaves, which trap falling insects on occasion. A type of non-biting mosquito lays its eggs in the juices, where the larva will not be consumed (at this point, I am uncertain why this is the case). Bumblebees frequently pollinate purple pitchers.
Medicinal uses: Native Americans used the roots to treat smallpox, lung illnesses, liver ailments, and coughing up blood. It was also been used as a childbirth aid and diuretic by Native Americans.
S. purpurea is the most widespread pitcher plant in the world, to current knowledge. It preys on many insects and arthropods, although it can consume larger prey in comparison to its relatives. Oddly enough, it also requires seasonal change to survive. If grown indoors, the lack of a change in temperature and humidity will harm these types of plants. Both the leaves and flowers range from various shades of green to red to purple.
Mostly used as an ornamental in bog gardens. While these do consume a significant amount of insects, they are not commonly used for that purpose due to low capture rates of prey. They have been used as medicine, although medicinal value has yet to be successfully proven. Sarracenia purpurea may be endangered or threatened, and it is locally extinct in some areas due to the quickly changing landscape of North America.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC158611/ [Signal transduction pathways in carnivorous plants]
- http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?where-taxon=Sarracenia+purpurea [see http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/use.html for image use]
- Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.
YouTube user “https://www.youtube.com/user/BcnAlber/videos” has several videos on carnivorous plants. If you’re interested and have some free time, I highly recommend checking them out. 🙂
A picture of mine from my last visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden
Multiple yellow-green pitcher plants near a red variety
Several flowering pitcher plants in Switzerland by Jan Flisek in August 2004
A high-quality illustration of Sarracenia organs
A detailed image of a pitcher plant by a talented artist from tumblr
A very high-quality image of a Purple Pitcher Plant from ‘Illumination Studios’
I do not own the rights of these images; all credit goes to its original creator(s).