What is a Purple Pitcher Plant?

Steve R.

Known by the scientific name Sarracenia purpurea, a purple pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that is found along the eastern seaboard of the United States, the Great Lakes Region, and southeastern Canada. Growing in areas such as wetlands and swamps where the soil is moist and acidic, the hardy plant is capable of surviving when temperatures go below freezing. The plants are usually about eight to 24 inches (about 20 to 61 cm) tall with dark red flowers that stretch two inches (about five cm) across. Also commonly called the sidesaddle plant, huntsman's cup, and frog britches, the purple pitcher plant receives its name from its ability to retain water and for its oddly shaped leaves.

Handful of peat moss, which is good for purple pitcher plants.
Handful of peat moss, which is good for purple pitcher plants.

As the purple pitcher plant grows in soil that lacks nutrients, the plant depends on nutrients from its captured prey. The upper surface of the plant’s leaves are coated with hairs that spiral downward into its pitcher. Prey is drawn to the plant’s nectar. When prey gets caught in the sticky liquid, the plant shuts its leaf covering trapping the prey inside. The plant then dissolves its prey and soaks up needed nutrients.

Caterpillars are considered a pest to purple pitcher plants.
Caterpillars are considered a pest to purple pitcher plants.

Mostly preying on insects such as ants, bees, and wasps, the purple pitcher plant is capable of attracting other creatures with its nectar. Spiders, small frogs, moths, snails and butterflies are also drawn to the plant’s nectar. Some creatures take advantage of the plant's ability to attract prey. Some spiders will build a web inside the plant to snare insect that fall inside. Flies are also capable of surviving inside the plant and living off decaying bugs and some mosquitoes survive on the plant's nectar.

The purple pitcher plant can survive for about two years unless it faces extreme cold temperatures. Its pitchers are packed with fluid that includes enzymes that helps it live. Its lifespan can be shortened by caterpillars that tunnel into the plant and gorge on the plant from the inside. While the plant may have a two-year lifespan, its roots are capable of living for up to 30 years.

The plant is found in marshy areas, but it can also be kept as a houseplant or grown outdoors. The plant requires at least six hours of sunshine daily. Plenty of sunlight gives the plant its dark red hue. The plant grows best in acidic soil. Potting mixture made of equal amounts of peat moss and sand provides a fertile environment for the plant to grow in.

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