Sarracenia purpurea: Northern Pitcher Plant

This section on carnivorous plants is concluded by a North American genus of nine species usually growing on the wet shores of forest lakes, in bogs and in swamps. This indicates that they are plants requiring a very moist compost (as well as high atmospheric moisture) and at the same time relatively cool conditions, which makes them suitable for growing in a conservatory as well as a home without central heating. Some of the hardier species may be overwintered outdoors, either plunged in a frame or in some cases merely provided with a light cover of evergreen twigs. These hardy species may be put by the water in an outdoor paludarium.

Sarracenia has pitcher-like leaves with glands inside which secrete proteolytic enzymes that aid in the digestion of insects and small arthropods. These plants have lovely flowers but they are very attractive even when not in flower, what with their interesting shape and the conspicuous colouring (usually deep red) of the veins.

Nowadays, hybrids are generally found in cultivation. These are more colourful than the species (the venation is more striking) and they often have larger flowers. Species found in cultivation include the S. purpurea, which in the wild grows over the area extending from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Alabama and Florida, and S. flava from the southern states of America.

The compost must be light, acidic and permanently moist — a mixture of peat, chopped green sphagnum moss, pine leaf mould, sand, and some charcoal. Feed requirements are minimal — all that need be done is to move the plants to fresh compost each year, and in the case of older specimens to remove only part of the soil and replace it with new.

The seeds of sarracenia remain viable for only a short time and should therefore be sown as soon as they are ripe. Sow them on the surface of green, wet sphagnum moss and cover the dish with glass. As soon as the seedlings are about 2 cm (¾ in) high, prick them out into the growing medium.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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