Name: pitcher plant, Sarracenia species.
Foliage: tall, narrow pitcher-shaped hooded foliage.
Climate: best in warm temperate climates.
Soil: low-nutrient and waterlogged soil.
Position: direct sunlight.
Flowering: 3–10cm, generally red, yellow, white, purple or pink, held on long stems above the pitcher.
Feeding: no fertiliser required; plants feed on insects.
Watering: keep damp.
These bizarre plants have modified leaves that form pitchers in bright alluring colours. These pitchers attract insects with their colour and intoxicating nectar. The insects go in search of the nectar and slip down the pitcher, where they’re trapped and digested by the plant. Though not generally grown for their flowers, these often appear for a short period during spring in striking colours of pink, purple, white, yellow or red. The flowers look like upside-down umbrellas. Some are pleasantly scented, while in some varieties the flowers smell like cat urine!
Pitcher plants are a unique conversation-starter for beginner gardeners, and a bizarre, beautiful plant for kids to grow. These amazing plants are popular with collectors and plant breeders, and are often grown in unheated greenhouses.
The soil needs to be quite wet during the summer growing season. If the pitcher plant is in a pot, only water it with distilled water or rain water. The chemicals in tap water could kill your pitcher plant. Keep the pot in water, rather than watering from the top. In winter, ease off the watering and just keep the plant damp – don’t let your pitcher plants dry out.
You don’t need to feed these carnivorous plants, they get their food from the ants, wasps, flies and other small insects they consume. Insects are tricked by the plant’s bright colours and enticing nectar, drawing them down into the pitcher, where they become trapped. The liquid in the bottom of the pitcher turns the insect into plant food. You’ll often see larger pitchers filled with insects as the plant consumes the soft parts, until all that remains is the exoskeleton.
Directly feeding pitcher plants can cause soil-borne fungal diseases to rapidly multiply. They’re well adapted to low-nutrient soils and can harvest their own food from insects falling into the pitcher.
If your plants are becoming yellow, this may be because they’re in a spot with too few insects. You can use a diluted liquid fertiliser at half the recommended rate and add it to the pot saucer or, if your pitcher plant is in the garden, add it in small amounts to any large pitcher with water in it.
Surprisingly, for a carnivorous plant, some insects, such as spider mites, aphids, thrips and mealybugs can be a problem. Neem oil is a great control for these pests. Make sure you always follow the application rates on the package.
It’s difficult to propagate pitcher plants by seed, generally taking 3–6 years to develop flowers and pitchers, so cuttings are the best method of propagation.
Venus flytrap: a sturdy indoor plant that feasts on insects.
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