Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants native to eastern North America. They get their name from the water-filled vessel formed from the plants' leaves. Although insect-eating plants may seem exotic, these perennials will make themselves right at home in your own backyard as long as you provide them with the appropriate habitat they need to thrive.
The leaves of the pitcher plants form hollow tubes that collect water. These tubes are covered by a leaf that serves as a hood to control the amount of rain that falls into the tube. Insects fall into the tubes, drown and are digested by the plant. Flowers are bright yellow, red, maroon, pink, rose or purple, depending on species. (see reference 1)
Native pitcher plants are perennials that grow in wetlands from Canada south to the Florida coast. Many species growing in the southeastern U.S. retain their green foliage year-round. Potted pitcher plants are winter-hardy in southern states. North to Zone 5, potted specimens can survive winter with some special handling: bury the pots underground to the rim in a sunny area. (see reference 2)
Wild pitcher plants grow in sunny bogs covered with peat moss. The soil is waterlogged, low in mineral salts and has a low pH. The soil in a bog contains little nitrogen. Eating insects is an adaptation of plants that live in a nitrogen-poor habitat. Pitcher plants trap insects to obtain nutrients they do not get from soil. (see ference 3)
Pitcher plants need a lot of sun and a lot of moisture. Plant them in an open area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day during the growing season. Soil should remain moist but not overly saturated; nor should the soil dry out completely. Pitcher plants prefer acidic soil that is similar to their native soil: add peat moss, and possibly sand, depending on the variety. (see reference 2)
Pitcher plants do not need to be fertilized. Fertilizers typically contain nitrogen. Unlike most other garden plants which thrive in nitrogen-rich soil, pitcher plants grow in a nitrogen-depleted environment. Bacteria in pitcher plants secrete enzymes that digest insects. The result is a liquid food for the plants that is high in nitrogen. (see reference 1)
Pitcher plants are protected by federal and state laws. While most plants in home gardens were collected in the wild, some nurseries sell specialty hybrids. (see reference 2)
A.P. Mentzer graduated from Rutgers University with degrees in Anthropology and Biological Sciences. She worked as a researcher and analyst in the biotech industry and a science editor for an educational publishing company prior to her career as a freelance writer and editor. Alissa enjoys writing about life science and medical topics, as well as science activities for children.