About Sarracenia pitcher plants

Sarracenia (say it: Sarr-a-cee-nee-a) are remarkable plants from North America that are able to attract, catch and digest insects for nutrients. Plants able to do these things are called carnivorous or insectivorous plants.

Sarracenia belong to a family of pitcher plants, all from North and South America. The rest of the family consists of the marsh or sun pitchers (Heliamphora) and the cobra plants (Darlingtonia). Interestingly, recent DNA research tells us the nearest non-carnivorous relatives of Sarracenia pitcher plants are the kiwifruit family!

Science currently recognises 11 species of Sarracenia. Here's what each of the currently accepted species and subspecies look like:

Sarracenia flava
Sarracenia alabamensis ssp. alamabensis
Sarracenia alabamensis ssp. wherryi Sarracenia alata
Sarracenia jonesii Sarracenia leucophylla
Sarracenia minor Sarracenia oreophila
Sarracenia psittacina
Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea
Sarracenia purpura ssp. venosa Sarracenia rosea
Sarracenia rubra ssp. rubra Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis

All Sarracenia species are able to breed with each other, producing hybrids that can then be crossed with other species and hybrids. This is great, because it means that pitcher plants grown around the world come in multitudes of different shapes, sizes and colours. This diversity means there is sure to be a plant to appeal to everyone!

Many people assume that carnivorous plants of any type are tropical. While some carnivorous plants (eg. Nepenthes pitcher plants) are indeed tropical, Sarracenia are from areas that experience genuine cold, including frost, snow and even ice. They need cold to be able to survive and are actually very difficult to grow in northern Australia. Here's a photo of my plants standing in frozen water on a -8 Celsius morning in Canberra! My plants have experienced cold winters like this since 2009 and I have never lost one yet due to cold stress.

Sarracenia are not hard to grow if you give them the following:
  • Full sun, at least 6 hours per day, in a spot protected from strong winds
  • Wet soil during spring, summer and winter, provided by sitting the pot in at least 3 cm of water,
  • Moist soil only during winter
  • Acid soil, either pure Sphagnum moss or peat moss, sand and perlite mixed in equal parts.
  • Good sized pot - at least twice the length of the rhizome or 'bulb' that the plant grows from
  • Cool winters, with overnight minimums going below 5*C for at least one month.
Sarracenia should be grown in a wet, acid soil that is based on either peat moss, or pure Sphagnum moss. Do not use potting mix, as it will guarantee your plants will die! Sand and perlite should be added in equal parts if you use peat moss, as this helps oxygen reach the roots and keeps them breathing. The soil should be kept wet through spring, summer and autumn by sitting the pot in at least 3 cm of water, but I recommend no more than half the height of the pot to avoid the potting mix becoming stagnant.

Because Sarracenia come from places with cold winters, they stop growing in Autumn, and start again the following spring. In Australia, my Sarracenia will have stopped growing before ANZAC day and will not start growing again until November. While the plants are dormant, keep them just moist.

I repot my plants in mid to late winter; avoid repotting growing plants unless necessary. For pots, use plastic, drained containers that are at least twice the length of the 'bulb', 'corm' or rhizome that the plant grows from. You can get away with the ridiculously tiny pots many Sarracenia are sold in for a season, but definitely repot during the following winter. I use 20 cm pots, but bog gardens are even better again. Sarracenia are best grown outside in a spot protected from strong wind, but they must get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. A greenhouse is only necessary if you live somewhere that gets really hot, dry and windy during summer, but Sarracenia are generally very adaptable.

While this is enough information to get you started, you may want to know more once you have grown a plant for a while. This page provides very detailed growing information based on my nearly 25 years of experience growing Sarracenia.

Good books with directions on growing Sarracenia include: