Plant Collector: Sarracenia

Sarracenia - the flowers come before the insect trapping pitchers

Sarracenia - the flowers come before the insect trapping pitchers

The deep red flower on this plant growing in our goldfish pond is a sarracenia which may not mean a whole lot until I mention pitcher plant – as in the insect eating plant family that traps its little prey in its throat and then digests them. The pitcher part comes later in summer. In spring it puts up eyecatching blooms to encourage pollination by insects and it does not wish to trap and digest the insects that will ensure its survival by pollinating it. Mind you, bees are the common pollinator and few plants can cope with insects as large as the bee.

Most of the sarracenia are native to the south eastern states of USA (think Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and the likes). As wetland inhabitants, their natural habitats have come under severe threat from development although they are not difficult to grow in suitable conditions and they set seed freely. This plant has its feet in the water and never dries out. It grows from a rhizome. Sarracenias are very cleverly designed as static traps. The insects are attracted by a combination of scent and colour. Once perched on the lip of the pitcher, a slippery secretion can tumble them over the curve to the inside of the funnel where a whole lot of fine, downward facing hairs prevent them making an escape. Some species even have a compound that anaesthetises the prey on the way down. It is a multi pronged attack in this war between plant and insect.

We bought this plant from a garden centre and have long since lost the label so we don’t know if it is a species or a hybrid but apparently they cross readily in the wild. Children find carnivorous plants fascinating and the sarracenia are one of the easier and more spectacular families to grow.