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Northern Pitcher Plant - Sarracenia purpurea

Northern Pitcher Plant - Sarracenia purpurea

Sarracenia purpurea is known as Purple or Northern Pitcher Plant or Omakakiiwiidaas (frog’s leggings), according to the Great Lakes Lifeways Institute. Sarracenia purpurea is a perennial and unusual wildflower native to Michigan and the UP. This plant is cold-hardy and carnivorous, often found in in both acid and alkaline bogs, swamps, fens, and boggy interdunal flats and pools, according to Michigan Flora.


The leathery leaves are streaked with red, sometimes nearly completely purple, and the similarly beefy flowers have "petals" which are bright red or purple. The pitchers, which form at the base of the plant, fill with water and enzymes that drown and digest unlucky insects, usually ants and flies. Colorful flowers spring up above the traps in May or June. Leaves are usually less than a foot in height, with flowers that extend to about 18".


We have not had difficulty growing this plant in peat-based potting soil in ordinary containers at the nursery, but other sources describe it as fussy. Soil is best kept consistently moist but the plant does not like having its crown completely submerged for long. In truth, this plant has endured a range of greenhouse conditions (including someone-forgot-to-water-today) for us without fuss for the two years it has taken to grow out the seedlings.


I would suggest avoiding fertilizer with this one; it is adapted to get its nitrogen from insects while its roots are tucked into nitrogen-deficient soil. If your garden is too rich, consider growing it in containers. These do prefer full sun, but are adapted to tolerate part shade. Shade may reduce the color to a boring green, but the structure and function will remain unique. Plant spreads slowly by rhizome in appropriate boggy habitat.


This plant has a long history of medicinal use by indigenous peoples. In many areas this plant's population is in decline from habitat loss or over-collection. Please avoid wild collection of plants. Ours are grown from carefully harvested small amounts of seed. This is also a popular terrarium plant, but the plants usually do not survive long and are deprived of playing a role in the ecosystem. We do not recommend indoor growing of this species.


According to Illinois Wildflowers, Pitcher Plant flowers "are pollinated by bumblebees seeking their nectar and pollen. They are also pollinated by Fletcherimyia fletcheri (Pitcher Plant Fly); this unusual fly seeks shelter in the flowers, becoming covered with pollen in the process. Because it frequently flies from one flower to another, cross-pollination occurs. The larvae of this fly live in the fluid of the tubular leaves, where they feed on other small insects that have become trapped; they are the top-level carnivores of this miniature ecosystem." Pitcher plants also support several species of moth, whose larvae in turn support birds.

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