Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Exotic-looking and bizarre, pitcher plants could be from a mythical tropical jungle, or even another planet! In reality they are native to much of North America, where they are found growing naturally in moist grasslands and bogs.
Such moist habitats have acidic soils, which are low in plant nutrients, and these plants have come up with a clever adaptation to supplement their diet: they trap and digest insects. The “pitcher”—a modified leaf—is a tall tube with a slippery mouth at the top and a pool of digestive juices at the bottom. The inside of the tube is lined with minute, downward-facing hairs which make it hard for prey to escape. The lid above the mouth of the pitcher prevents rain from diluting the fluids inside.
The yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) hails from the southeastern United States and there are several subspecies and selections. As with all pitcher plants, they require special conditions to grow in cultivation. They need a fibrous, acidic soil—kept moist but not too wet—plenty of sunshine and an ample supply of insects.
All this may be seen in our Aquatic Garden this year, where we have different selections of Sarracenia flava growing in large containers, set just above the surface of the water.