Pitcher Plant Care
Growing Pitcher Plants In The Garden
The pitcher plant (Sarracenia species) is one of the most popular houseplants. It’s easy to grow, it looks beautiful in your home or office, and it provides a nice shade over the plants surrounding it. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind when growing this tropical plant. You will learn here what you should look out for while growing this tropical houseplant.
Hanging Pitching Plant Care
There are several varieties of Sarracenia plants available for sale online. Some of them have been bred to produce pitchers with longer stems than others. These long stems allow the pitcher plant to hang from a wall better, which makes it easier to reach into the bowl and pick up a ball. The shorter stem pitchers tend to fall off easily when you want to get at those pesky baseballs!
You might think that the taller pitchers would be easier to reach, but they aren’t. They’re just not tall enough to reach the top of the pitcher without bending down. If you really want to use these pitchers for something other than looking pretty, then you’ll need to make sure they don’t break or bend too much when you put your hand inside them. A broken pitcher plant is never a good thing!
Another thing to think about when growing Sarracenia plants, is how you’re going to get fertilizer inside the pitchers. The environment inside a pitcher plant isn’t very nutritious for your plants, so you need to make sure that they get some extra nutrients through other means. Make sure you talk to the nursery’s owner before you buy your Sarracenia flowers to make sure they know what you’re planning to do with them.
Pitcher Plant Pitchers Turning Brown
If you look inside your pitcher plant, you might notice that the liquid inside has turned a brownish color. It’s still sticky and it has a smell you won’t be able to forget. You might have this problem if your pitcher plant is getting too much sun or not enough sun. You should move the plant to a shadier location or rotate it so that all parts of the plant get equal sunlight. You can also try cutting open some of the pitchers to let more air reach the inside of the pitcher.
This will keep it from over-fermenting, which is what causes the liquid in the pitcher to turn brown. Some people also suggest filling up the pitcher with water and adding some lemon juice or other fruit juice. The various acids in these liquids break down the extra sugars in the plant and prevent them from turning brown.
Cleaning Sarracenia Pitchers
Sarracenia pitchers can get very moldy if the environment they’re in is too wet. Mold can sometimes grow along the outer edge of the pitcher, near the opening. This mold isn’t dangerous to humans, but it can make the plant look less appealing. Since you probably don’t want to eat something that looks like it has mold growing on it, you should clean off this mold every once in awhile. If your plant gets very moldy, you should also check the soil for excess moisture.
The easiest way to do this is to take out the plant’s pot and dig down about 6-inches. Check the soil and see if it’s damp. If it is, remove some of the soil and replace it with drier soil. Then water the plant well to settle the soil.
Another type of mold that can grow on the inside of a pitcher (especially the long-stemmed varieties) is a fuzzy white mold. This mold can’t be removed by cleaning it with water because it’s actually growing into the structure of the pitcher itself! If you see this type of mold, your best bet is to discard the whole pitcher — the fuzzy white mold can’t be removed and it can spread to other pitchers.
Drainage is an important factor when growing Sarracenia too. Your plant should never sit in water so if you do get excess rainwater, remove the extra water so that each pitcher can drain well.
Flies and Other Insects in the Pitchers
Do you see any insects like flies or moth larvae growing in the pitcher?
If you do, it’s because there is excess meaty matter built up behind the teeth of the pitcher. You may need to clean out this extra matter so that other insects don’t have a place to breed and lay their eggs. If there are any insects in the pitcher, use a spoon or your fingers (wearing gloves! You don’t want to get bitten or stung) to scoop out any gristle, meat, or other matter that may be breeding insects. Place this matter in a sealed bag and throw it away in a few days.
Most of the time, you can just do this maintenance cleaning whenever you water your plant because a little rainwater will wash out the leftover matter and wash away excess mold and bacteria. However, if you’re concerned about excess mold and mildew growth or insects inside the pitcher, you can clean out the inside of the pitcher every couple of weeks or so. This is especially important for plants that trap smaller insects that breed faster like flies. You definitely don’t want a fly breeding ground near your mouth!
You may have noticed that different varieties of Sarracenia have different-sized pitchers. The smallest pitchers are only slightly bigger than a needle, while the biggest can be as large as a softball! Pitcher size correlates to how much of an insect the plant can trap and digest. Smaller insects like flies and mosquitoes can’t get out of the smallest pitchers, but larger insects like butterflies and grasshoppers can easily escape the largest pitchers.
The “sweet spot” for pitcher size is somewhere in the middle. The plants can’t make their pitchers too big or the plant would die of starvation (it takes a lot of energy to make those big traps), but they can’t make them too small or else they won’t catch much food at all.
When growing these plants yourself, you need to be aware that some varieties are bred for their looks and not for their trapping ability. For this reason, you may find that the pitchers on these varieties just don’t look right. They may be lumpy, oddly-formed, or they may not close completely. This doesn’t mean you have a “bad” plant (some people actually prefer these variations!), but it does mean that this variety isn’t the best choice if you want to see it catch food.
If you have a hybrid variety or a mutant variety (more on these later!) of Sarracenia, you’re in for an even weirder pitcher spectacle. The genetics and breeding processes behind these plants are complex, so the exact reasons why these pitchers take the forms that they do is not entirely understood.
Some pitcher varieties have a “normal” shape and size, but are mottled with different colors that make them very ornamental. Other varieties might have stripes or spots, or brightly colored seams around the lips of the pitcher. Like I said, it’s a breeding game, and the more ornamental a variety is, the better chance that variety has to be sold.
The next part of this guide is going to talk about the different kinds of Sarracenia you can grow and their basic care requirements. Remember, these are all just guidelines, and you can always do a little research on a plant you’re not familiar with before you get it to make sure.
S. alata is a good place to start if you’re a beginner because it’s one of the most common and easiest to care for. It has a wide pitcher size, comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and its growth habit is fairly tall and straightforward. If you get this plant, I’d recommend getting at least three since they tend to look a little lonely and lost when they’re alone.
S. alata will catch a lot of bugs given its size. Grasshoppers, beetles, and any other kind of small flying or jumping insect is basically food for it. It can even handle small spiders if it really has to! Of course, bees are off limits no matter what kind of Sarracenia you have.
For safety reasons, it’s always best to keep the plants away from your garden.
Sarracenia require a well draining soil, but besides that they aren’t very picky about their growing conditions. However, if you want the traps to turn out normal and not deformed, don’t let the soil get too soggy or too dry. If given enough sun and water, these plants will grow fairly quickly. You can harvest the “pirate hooks” when they’re at their largest. However, these plants can get pretty big if given enough time, so you may want to wait until they’ve grown a little more to pick.
S. flava is another common pitcher plant that’s pretty hardy and easy to care for. It’s one of the smaller types of Sarracenia, and it has more of an orange/red color to its pitchers. It can grow a bit taller than S. alata, but not by much.
This plant only eats smaller insects than S. alata does. It’s a bit pickier with what it eats, so if you’ve got flying insects like small flies or fruit flies, then this plant will do fine. Ants seem to like this plant the most (probably due to its size), so keep that in mind when you’re feeding it outdoors!
This plant grows like the others. It doesn’t need a super powered drainage system, but don’t put it somewhere that will get soggy all the time. If you’re growing this plant indoors (like in a classroom), then it’s best to pay a little more attention to its water intake.
S. psittacina is one of the smaller pitcher plants. In fact, it’s one of the smallest ones you can find!
Sources & references used in this article:
The savage garden, revised: Cultivating carnivorous plants by P D’amato – 2013 – books.google.com
Slippery surfaces of pitcher plants: Nepenthes wax crystals minimize insect attachment via microscopic surface roughness by I Scholz, M Bückins, L Dolge… – Journal of …, 2010 – jeb.biologists.org
Sarracenia pitcher plant named ‘Redbug’ by TL Mellichamp, RK Gardner – US Patent App. 09/755,823, 2002 – Google Patents
Evolution in response to direct and indirect ecological effects in pitcher plant inquiline communities by CP TerHorst – The American Naturalist, 2010 – journals.uchicago.edu