Carnivorous Plants Website
Carnivorous Plants in the Wilderness
by Makoto Honda


Carnivorous Plants Story
Picture book for a young audience / Kindle Edition

Makoto Honda

Copyright (c) 2013-2017 by Makoto Honda. All Rights Reserved.


Pitcher Plants

GENUS Sarracenia

There are eight species of eastern North American pitcher plants all native to the eastern part of the United States. One of them also grows in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Often, many different species are seen growing in the same habitats in the marshy savannas of the southeastern United States. This creates many natural hybrids in the wild.


White-top pitchers of Sarracenia leucophylla with a distinct network of red veins, in the long-leaf pine savanna in southern Alabama, in May. A field covered with thousands of fresh, spring pitchers presents a true spectacle of nature's creation.  


A stand of the trumpet pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava, in July, in the Florida panhandle. The tall pitchers are susceptible to wind, especially when the pitchers are filled with rainwater, and the leaves are easily toppled after a violent storm.     


Pale yellow flowers of Sarracenia alata. Note the shadows of the fallen pollen accumulated on an umbrella-shaped style of the flower. In April, in southern Mississippi.  


The hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor, growing in a grassland, in a sparsely populated pine forest, in Georgia, in May. Note brightly red ceiling of the pitcher hood, which insects approaching the pitcher from below, will see.  


In the southeastern United States, where many different species of pitcher plants grow in the same habitats, there are many hybrids occurring in the wild. This is a natural hybrid between Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia leucophylla. In May, in southern Alabama.


A magnificent colony of Sarracenia purpurea plants growing in a marl fen along the shore of Lake Huron, in northern Michigan, in early July. Other carnivorous plants found in this northern fen include sundews and bladderworts.


A colony of Sarracenia rubra plants by the edge of a pond in the western Florida panhandle, in May. Note that these S. rubra plants are a giant form, growing to a height of 70 cm.  


All pitcher plants use a pitfall trap to catch insects and other small animals. The name "pitcher plants" came from their hollow trap leaves which are, indeed, shaped like a pitcher. The pitcher leaves vary in size from several centimeters to a meter in height, depending on the species. The shape of a pitcher is characteristic to each species.


A blooming Sarracenia leucophylla plant in Florida, in May. Typically, flowers appear before the pitchers, in order to protect pollinators. Here, new spring pitchers are seen with red, attractive flowers atop the tall flower stems.


Pitcher plant leaves are hollow tubes that retain some liquid at the bottom. Pitchers are usually erect, but may be lying on the ground in some species. The lower part of the inner tube is covered with downward-pointing hairs to prevent insect escape.


Downward-pointing hairs on the walls of the lower pitcher (left), and captured prey accumulating in the pitcher.


The sturdy look of trumpet pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) in Florida, in May. Note a strong brownish venation, along with a dark throat, of this strain.  


A clump of pitchers strongly diffused with bright red. Sarracenia leucophylla, in Alabama, in May.


People in the eighteenth century believed that the pitchers are intended to provide a merciful refuge for poor insects fleeting from their predators. On the contrary, we now know, the hollow pitcher leaves are carefully constructed, and deceptively clever, traps of these meat-eating plants.


Pitchers of the hooded pitcher plant (Sarracenia minor) in Georgia, in May. A wasp busily checks the availability of nectar near the pitcher opening, moving from one pitcher to another.


Small flies congregate on the neck column of the pitcher of Sarracenia leucophylla, as a small spider nearby looks on. Note tiny downward-pointing hairs lining the inner surface of the pitcher lid.  


A cross section of a leaf of the parrot pitcher plant (Sarracenia psittacina). Unlike other species of pitcher plants, the hood of the pitcher is well developed to form a dome in this species. Consequently, the pitcher opening faces towards the rosette center. In this species, the pitchers are often lying horizontally, instead of growing erect as in other species. Note very long retentive hairs growing in the pitcher tube.


A view of the pitcher top, as seen from the bottom of the pitcher of Sarracenia minor. Note the bright red ceiling, and numerous white patches on the back side of the pitcher. These white patches give a false impression of an exit for insects foraging on the rim of the pitcher.


This is an insect's eye view of blossoming Sarracenia minor plants in Georgia, in May. As a winged insect hovers around the plants from below, seductive, bright red ceilings of the pitchers shine alongside the attractive pale yellow-green flowers. Sarracenia minor is an exception among all pitcher plant species in that new spring pitchers emerge before or together with flowers, thus exposing their pollinators to the risk of being trapped by the pitchers.


In addition to their brilliant colors, the pitchers produce sweet nectar from many nectar glands scattered over the pitcher, particularly around the lid and the mouth of the pitcher, in an attempt to allure animal prey.


Pitchers of Sarracenia leucophylla, in May, in southern Alabama. Note a heavy venation on the white top of the pitcher. One strain has an almost pure-white pitcher top.


The inner surface of the pitcher lid is covered with many short hairs all pointing downward, in the direction of the pitcher opening. This creates a very unstable foothold for the foraging insects. An insect comes to the pitcher mouth where the nectar is most abundant, but the rim of the pitcher mouth is very slick. As the insect ventures around the pitcher mouth for more nectar, it often loses its footing and tumbles into the bottom of the narrow pitcher tube. Once it has fallen, the pitcher wall is too slippery for the insect to scale. The lower part of the tube has dense, downward-pointing hairs, which prevent the trapped insect from climbing the wall.

The pitcher usually contains a small amount of liquid at the base. The captured prey is eventually decomposed by bacteria, and the nutrients from the victim is absorbed through the pitcher wall.


Water-filled pitchers of Sarracenia purpurea. Note the water level has been adjusted by the plant for the most effective trapping. In early July, in northern Michigan.


A bug's eye view of the pitcher of Sarracenia purpurea, looking up from the bottom of the pitcher. Note the vertical lip of the pitcher is lined with many short hairs all pointing downward. Heavy markings on the inner lid provide a visual attraction for the potential prey.  


Underwater photography reveals local ants drowning in the pool of a Sarracenia purpurea pitcher. In July, in North Carolina.





Carnivorous Plants Story - Copyrighted Material
Copyright (c) 2013 by Makoto Honda. All Rights Reserved.

For a young audience, click here for
"Eaten Alive by Carnivorous Plants" by Kathleen J. Honda & Makoto Honda