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Little Pitchers have Big Mouths

Little Pitchers have Big Mouths
The Carnivorous Pitcher Plant

Meet the ingenious pitcher plant, the siren of the plant world.   Over the course of time it has developed a super-efficient system to lure, trap and digest its food.

These little pitchers have hungry mouths to feed.Pitcher Plant

 

Step One: The Lure

The pitcher plant is designed for deception.    It uses its wide assortment of flashy colors and patterns to attract visitors. They can be found in spotted apple green, dappled red, purple pinstripe and a pink and white lace, all quite appealing to a bug’s eye.  Some have a dainty ruffled lid that not only serves as a canopy, keeping the vessel from flooding with rain water, but also as an attractive landing pad for flying insects.

Scent is perhaps the pitcher plant’s perfect lure.  It beguiles its prey with an irresistible, sweet nectar-filled aroma which is secreted from glands on the lip of the plant, which is called the peristome.

The moment the unsuspecting creature lands on this lip it is often too late.     In some cases the pitcher plant’s seductive nectar is not only slippery, but also laced with a narcotic. The slippery rim proves too treacherous to maneuver and the visitor slips and plunges down the wild water slide to a liquid-filled pit.

Pitcher Plants

Pitcher plants come in a wide variety of shapes, colors and patterns. Sarracenia hybrid

 

Step Two: The Trap

In the pit the creature finds a medieval torture chamber designed to keep captured prey put.  Inside this cavity, called the “pitfall trap”, are downward pointing bayonet-like hairs and super slippery scales of a waxy nature.  Some  pitcher plants even have chemical-secreting crystals which remove the stickiness from the pads of its prey rendering  them helpless for vertical climbs.

Notice the downward facing hairs near the edge of the liquid. Pitcher Plant Sarracenia purpurea

Notice the downward facing hairs near the edge of the liquid. Pitcher Plant Sarracenia purpurea
Missouri Botanical Gardens, Climatron

Step Three: The Meal

The fluid in the pitfall trap is filled with rainwater, dew and an enzyme similar to our stomach acid that aids the plant in digestion.  These plants are labeled carnivores not insectivores because their diets consist of not only insects, but spiders, mites, and small lizards.  Pitcher plants have a wide variety of  favorite snacks:  some varieties of pitcher plants have been known to dine on small fish during flooding , others in Southeast Asia have been found with skeletons of small rodents inside.

Pitcher Plant and fly

This plant snack just touched down on the pitcher plant’s frilly landing pad. Next stop the rim, then down the slippery slide to the pitfall trap.

Down in the Bog

Pitcher plants thrive in boggy soil.  They learned long ago that this nutrient-poor soil was not adequate for their needs and developed a means to feed themselves.  It’s believed the vessel that holds the prey-digesting  juice is an adaptation of a leaf. They prefer the environment of  the bog: damp and mucky and where the peaty soil does not dry out.  Full sun gives them their best coloration.  Pitcher plants can survive in container gardens as well.

Purple Pitcher Plant Flowering

Purple Pitcher Plant Flowering. Sarracenia purpurea
Bog Garden, Riverbank Zoo and Gardens, Columbia SC

Below is a close up view of the flowering Sarracenia purpurea.  This flower is very special to those in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

purple pitcher plant flower12

Sarracenia purpurea – The official flower of Newfoundland and Labrador

 

Below is my favorite pitcher plant. This photo was taken at the Washington D C Botanic Gardens.

White Trumpet Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia leucophylla

White Trumpet Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia leucophylla
United States Bontanic Gardens

 

 

I took most of these photos at some of my favorite garden spots and I’ll share them with you:

If you are ever in the Washington DC area, visit the United States Botanic Gardens
(it’s free!)

A fabulous place to visit is the Missouri Botanical Gardens It’s 79 acres of gorgeous! Many varieties of pitcher plants in their Climatron.

The Riverbank Zoo and Garden in Columbia South Carolina is a wonderful hidden gem. It boasts a fabulous bog garden with many varieties of pitcher plants.

Want to see more interesting plants?  Check out my post about the stinky and very rare corpse plant.

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