American Pitcher Plants

Basic Cultivation of Sarracenia Pitcher Plants


Written by Michael Stiffler –


New England Carnivorous Plant Society –


General information

The genus Sarracenia are pitcher plants found mostly in the southeastern USA, except for S. purpurea whose natural range extends north into New England, the Midwest, and much of Canada. Most are tall trumpet shaped plants, but a few species such as S. purpurea and S. psittacina are much shorter. Sarracenia are pitfall traps, prey simply fall into the pitchers and cannot escape. Prey are primarily insects, which are attracted to the pitchers by their coloration and nectar. Several species also produce a variety of chemicals, including digestive enzymes, wetting agents, and insect narcotics. Sarracenia are relatively easy to grow outdoors in New England if provided plenty of sunlight, proper soil, are always kept wet with mineral-free water, and are protected from extremely cold temperatures and drying winds during the winter dormancy period.


Species: S. purpurea, S. flava, S. rubra, S. alata, S. leucophylla, S. oreophila, S. minor, S. psittacina; hybrid species occur fairly frequently in the wild and many others have been bred by growers.



Soil: An easily obtainable mix is one part each of peat and perlite. Inert sand (e.g. pool filter sand) can be used instead of perlite, though this makes large pots extremely heavy. Long-fibered sphagnum can also be used, though later repotting can be difficult. 


Containers: Plastic pots with drainage holes are typically used. 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. Use the tray method keeping the pot in ½ inch or more of standing water – the soil should never dry out. Use mosquito dunks to prevent mosquitos breeding in water trays. 


Light: Sarracenia need intense light for good growth, best grown outdoors where they can get full sunlight 6+ hours per day during the growing season (April through October in New England).


Growing conditions: Are poor candidates for terrariums due to their height and overall size, and light requirements. Do best outdoors placed in pots or in bog gardens. 


Dormancy: All species require three to four months of winter dormancy (November through March in New England). For more details, see care sheet “Overwintering Temperate Carnivorous Plants in New England” written by Mike Stiffler.


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


Propagation: Easiest to propagate by rhizome divisions. The best time to divide is in early spring when coming out of dormancy. Can also be grown from seed; flowers do not self-pollinate.   


New England Carnivorous Plant Society –