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Growing Healthy North American Pitcher Plants

For North American pitcher plants you simply need to know the basics to grow healthy plants. If you follow the basic care guidelines the plants will look after themselves including catching a large numbers of insects. Think of them as the ultimate organic pest controllers! 

The Genus Sarracenia

North American pitcher plants belong to the genus Sarracenia with 11 known species. Most species are indigenous to south eastern United States. 

The Lure of Sarracenia

Apart from their alien looking tube like leaves they also come in an amazing variety of colors. Each variety or cultivar (cultivated variety) has its own unique pitcher form and color which just adds to their attraction. Whether its the grand traps of flava or the flower like pitchers of  leucophylla there are shapes, forms and colors to suit all tastes.

The Trapping Mechanism

Unlike Venus flytraps which are active fly catchers North American pitcher plants are passive. When insects lose their footing they fall into the pitcher under the force of gravity. 

The traps may look like flowers but are in fact modified leaves which are designed to lure, trap and digest insects. Nectar secreting glands cover the whole pitcher including the lid and rim.

Most nectar is found on the base of the hood and slightly inside the pitcher. This is no accident because the nectar glands lure insects to go deeper where it’s slipperier.

Also there are downward pointing hairs which encourage insects to travel downwards. In Sarracenia flava there is even a paralyzing agent called coniine which causes insects to lose their footing. That explains why some insects appear drunk before falling in to the pitchers. 

Point Of No Return

Insects eventually lose their footing and fall into the pitcher. Many prey items find themselves wedged in between the narrow walls near the base of the plant. Other prey items drown in the digestive fluid enzymes and rainwater at the base of the pitcher. 

As it becomes fuller and wider near the top of the pitcher there’s more movement for anything trapped. Prey items literally clamber on top of each other trying to get out. The inner waxy walls however prevents anything from getting a foothold and escaping. Many times I’ve observed flies exhausting themselves after their futile attempts to escape.  

Have a look at this video I took in my backyard that demonstrates how the trap works. It’s something I never tire of watching! (don’t forget to turn on the volume).

Listening To Your Plants Feed

This is one of the reasons what makes North American pitcher plants so unique. The large quantity of live captured insects together with the hollow leaves amplify the sounds coming from the pitchers. Its like listening to your plants feed! I’ve learnt to identify many types of prey simply by the sound they make. Here are a few sounds I’ve managed to record.

Sound of a Trapped Moth
Sound of a Trapped Hover Fly

More Growing and Care Tips

Sarracenia Growth Patterns

The species and variety of North American pitcher plant will determine when your plant produces it’s biggest and best pitchers. Understanding the various peak times can help you achieve an extended pitcher display throughout the growing season. Click here to download the growth patterns for North American pitcher plants located at our nursery.

Light Hungry

Many species of North American pitcher plants overshadow other plants that share their habitat. Sarracenia Flava for example which is the grandest of all the species reach up to 65 cm in height. This gives an indication that North American pitcher plants are hungry when it comes to sunlight.  

How Much Is Enough Sunlight?

6 hours of direct sunlight is the minimum you should give your plants. I personally give my plants a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight. Ample sunlight will ensure your pitchers are erect and vibrant in color. As a general rule though the more sunlight the healthier they will be.


The tray method – The easiest way to water your carnivorous plants is by sitting your pot plant in a tray of water. The damp peat moss replicates the boggy environment where the plants come from. The tray method also provides humidity which the plants appreciate. Just like Venus Flytraps never allow the soil to dry out because its the easiest way to kill your plants.

Top watering – You can also water your plants from the top if you wish. You will have to do this more often than the tray method to maintain a damp medium….especially during summer. The benefit of watering from the top is that any minerals and salts are flushed out from the bottom of the pot. 

Is Tap Water OK?

Tap water is a slow poison for North American pitcher plants and Venus Flytraps. This is because tap water can have high levels of inorganic salts such as chlorine and phosphates just to name a few. Its better to use rainwater, distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water which have minimal contaminants and therefore do no harm to your plants.

Is Tap Water All The Same?

It depends on where you live – Your tap water may be OK to use on your plants depending on how your water is treated. You can use a TDS meter which measures TDS (Total Dissolved Salts) in your water. As a general rule you want a TDS reading of 50 ppm (parts per million) or less for your carnivorous plants. Click here to find out how to use a TDS meter. 

Outdoors or Indoors?
They are best suited to be grown outdoors where they will get enough direct sunlight. In the southern hemisphere North facing aspects are best. It is also outdoors where they can catch all the insects they need. This leads me to the next point…….
No Need To Fertilize Your Plants
North American pitcher plants are legendary when it comes to catching insects. Sarracenia Flava, Leucophylla and Alata species with their long tubes can trap huge quantities of prey. Not only do they keep pests at bay but when it comes to fertilizing they look after themselves. Here you can see a trapped wasp and click beetle inside an opened pitcher.
Pick A Wind Sheltered Area
North American pitcher plants don’t form woody branches to support their leaves. Instead the base of the pitchers are supported by rhizomes near the soil’s surface. This makes the pitchers susceptible to flopping over in strong winds. A wind sheltered area will help your plants form erect pitchers.
Venus Flytraps vs North American Pitcher Plants

Insect catching abilities – Compared to Venus flytraps Sarracenia (North American pitcher plants) catch far more insects. You just need to have a look at the size of the pitchers to get an idea of how many insects can fit inside. This is especially so for Sarracenia flava species which grow quite large.

Watching Your Plants Catch Insects is Fun! – If you grow Sarracenia at home it won’t be long before you start to see insects falling in to the pitchers. There’s nothing like watching your plants feed!

Similar care requirements – Since both plants come from temperate areas in North America they both have the same care requirements. You can even grow them in the same pot because they grow in the same medium. Fortunately we sell exciting varieties of North American Pitcher plants and Venus flytraps to whet your carnivorous appetite!

Looking for Further Info?

Please contact me through my Contact page on this website or through my Facebook page for further info…… I would love to help you out! For my next market visit check out the ‘Events’ tab on my Facebook page. Till then happy growing!

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