American Pitcher Plants

The American Pitcher Plants: Sarracenia sp.

by Michael and Andreia Stiffler

General information

The genus Sarracenia is a group of species found mostly in the southeastern corner of the USA, except for purpurea whose range extends north into New England, the Midwest and much of Canada. Most are erect, trumpet shaped plants, but a few species such as S. purpurea and S. psittacina are much shorter. Sarracenia are pitfall traps, they have no rapidly moving parts. They capture insects by not letting them escape from their pitchers once the prey topple in. Some species secrete an amazing variety of chemicals, including digestive enzymes, wetting agents, and insect narcotics. Others rely on bacterial action to digest their prey.

Species: S. purpurea ssp., S. flava, S. rubra, S. alata, S. leucophylla, S. oreophila, S. minor, S. psittacina; hybrid species occur fairly frequently in the wild


Soil: Live sphagnum or long-fibered sphagnum is excellent. A mix of one part peat to one part course sand or perlite is also good.

Containers: Plastic pots are recommended, however glazed ceramics will also work. Mature plants will need large pots (eight inches or larger).

Watering: Use only chlorine free water with low mineral content such as distilled, reverse osmosis or rain water. Some public water supplies in New England are adequate—check with your water company or other NECPS members. Use the tray method keeping the soil damp to very wet.

Light: Full to mostly sunny. Sarracenia thrive outdoors in full sunlight.

Growing conditions: Most are poor candidates for terrariums due to their height and overall size, but may do well in sunny windows. Do best outdoors in bog gardens, greenhouses, or in pots on sunny porches or simply on the lawn. Tall pitchers may need support outdoors in windy conditions, this can be accomplished using a stem gathering loop.

Dormancy: All species require three to four months of winter dormancy.

Feeding: Outdoors they will feed themselves on houseflies, bees, mosquitoes, etc. often to the point of toppling over.

Propagation: Easiest to propagate by rhizome divisions. Also can be grown from seed; seeds require stratification. Flowers do not self pollinate.

References and for more information

  1. D’Amato, Peter. 1998. The Savage Garden. Berkeley, California.: Ten Speed Press.

  2. The Carnivorous Plant FAQ

  3. Schnell, Donald E. 2002. Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada. Portland, Oregon.: Timber Press.