Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

Family: Sarraceniaceae

Scientific Name: Sarracenia spp. Darlingtonia spp. Nepenthes spp.

How It Works: Pitcher plants are unique in that they contain a pitcher which aids in nutrient gathering through a carnivorous pathway. Glands are used around the rim of the pitcher to produce nectar that acts as an attractant to insects and occasionally small animals. Certain plants also contain anthocyanin pigments that act as a visual attractant. The rim of the pitcher is coated in a waxy substance that causes prey to slip into the pitcher. Trichomes, downward pointing hairs, line the inside of the pitcher, preventing insects from climbing out. The liquid in the base of the pitcher contains enzymes that dissolve insects into amino acids, peptides, phosphates, ammonium, and urea. Once dissolved, the nutrients are absorbed by the plants and provide a large portion of the nitrogen and phosphorus supply which is often difficult to attain from the soil alone due to the nutrient poor environments which pitcher plants tend to inhabit.

Trichome Hairs

Trichome Hairs

Appearance: The pitcher plant is a perennial herb with leaves that have evolved to form a pitcher used for gaining nutrients from insects. The pitchers range from 2-18 inches long and can either be elevated off of or rest on the ground. Those pitchers that do not rest on the ground are either supported by a stalk or hang from a vine depending on the species. Pitchers are green in color with purple veins and typically last throughout the winter in moderate climates. Certain pitcher species contain a leaf above the opening to the pitcher while others contain fully exposed pitchers. A flower stalk, ranging from 6-28 inches tall, typically contains one flower and is leafless. The flower atop the stalk is used for sexual reproduction among pitcher plants.

Reproduction: It would be detrimental to the plant to kill its pollinators, therefore the flower is often produced before the pitchers each season, or the flower may rest on a stem above the pitchers depending on the species. Seeds are produced sexually from pollination of the flowers that rest singularly atop a stem. The seeds are round and range from 3/8” to 7/8” in diameter. The plants can also reproduce through the spread of underground stems. Reproduction through underground stems typically creates clumping of pitcher plants (see figure at top) while direct pollination usually leads to further dispersal of plants.

Multiple pitcher plants, each with a flower.

Flower of a pitcher plant native to MN

Human Use: Although no direct benefits are present for humans, it is believed that the liquid within the pitcher is protein rich and can serve as a last ditch meal for hikers or individuals lost in the wilderness. No other known characteristics exist that directly benefit humans.

Range: There are two ranges for pitcher plants in the U.S. First is the mountain variety which prefers bogs which are sunny, wet, and nutrient poor. The second variety, coastal plain variety prefers wet meadows, damp hillsides, and bogs. The coastal plain varieties can often be found where other carnivorous plants are located.

Pitcher pants prefer sunny, wet, and nutrient poor environment for several reasons. Wet environments are necessary for the high water demand required for growth and production of the liquid within the pitcher. Sun is required for the large growth allocated to the plants appendages, and nutrient poor environments are preferred to limit competition as the pitcher plant can attain a large portion of its nutrients from insects.

Sarracenia spp. inhabit most of the eastern North American continent, including Minnesota, extending from the southern U.S. into Canada. Darlingtonia spp. are found exclusively in California and Oregon. Nepenthes spp. exist primarily in SE Asia (most commonly found in Borneo) and a few remote locations of northern Australia.

Within Minnesota pitcher plants can be found throughout the entire state wherever the growing conditions are right. That includes a wet environment, sunny, and nutrient poor, most commonly near bogs and bodies of water.

Pitcher plant variety found in MN

Pitcher plant in MN



Insects being degraded inside a pitcher plant


Vine pitcher common of SE Asia

Sources: http://www.georgiawildlife.com/sites/default/files/uploads/wildlife/nongame/pdf/accounts/plants/sarracenia_purpurea.pdf https://lrresearch.pbworks.com/w/page/25314372/Pitcher%20Plants http://www.voyageurcountry.com/htmls/floweringplants/plants/pitcherplant.html http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/p/pitcher_plant.htm


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