Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pitcher plants flower, too!

We don't normally think of pitcher plants having flowers—it's the leaves with their ability to feed on insects that fascinate us and get our attention. But before the pitchers form each spring, buds swell and flowers open for the business of pollination, giving pollinators a chance to do their thing before the threat of being devoured manifests.

The purple pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea), formerly in my tiny bog garden, are sending up buds now; other species may bloom any time between February and May. Below a copper-top pitcher shows off it's lovely leaves in the pine savannahs of Brunswick County, NC.

Pitcher plant flowers have adaptations that make them as unusual as the rest of the plant. A beautiful Sarracenia diagram with all the parts labeled is here. See below how some of the anthers have fallen into the cup-like style where insects (primarily bees) will be unavoidably covered with it before they exit.

There are believed to be eight native species of pitcher plants in the United States, and seven of them are found only in the southeast. The wetlands habitat for these plants has been reduced by over 90% and severe poaching continues to threaten their survival in the wild. It is estimated that only 5% of the original stands of Sarracenia still exist.

Pitcher plant fruit forms after
pollination and fertilization.
Seed dispersal is in the fall.
But pitcher plants are easy to grow in a pot—wouldn't you like to? First start with plants from a botanical garden (UNC or UNC Charlotte, for example) or reputable retailer (such as Niche Gardens). Soil should be approximately 1/3 peat, 1/3 sand, and 1/3 potting soil. Put the pot in full sun, in a dish, and keep the dish full of water at least most of the time. I let mine dry out a bit occasionally, especially in the winter, but it should never get bone dry. You can fertilize occasionally with fish emulsion. The liquid-filled tubular foliage is fun to inspect—you'll be surprised at the large number of bugs in there!

Recommended reference: The Savage Garden by Peter D'Amato, Ten Speed Press, 1998.


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