10 Popular Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia purple pitcher plants with vein-marked flowers in deep red and green

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pitcher plants are one of the most fun plants that you can grow. Show one to friends and family visiting your garden, and you are sure to be rewarded with, "That's so unusual; I've never seen that before!"

Even when people get over the novelty of pitcher plants, they remain fascinated by the odd forms assumed by the namesake pitchers (which are really modified leaves).

Equally fascinating for some is the fact that, like the famous Venus flytrap, pitcher plants are carnivorous. The pitchers function as traps for insects, which are attracted to them both by their smell and by their color. Once insects are trapped within a pitcher, it's difficult for them to get out because the internal walls are slippery and covered in stiff hairs that point downwards. The pitchers fill up partially with rainwater and the trapped insects can end up drowning. Some pitcher plants produce a chemical that kills the insects.

Pitcher plants are classified as herbaceous perennials, and many different types exist. No matter where you live, you will probably find one suitable for your garden, patio, or greenhouse.

Unfortunately, they're not easy plants to grow and so are best left to green thumbs. Here are ten pretty pitcher plants popular with enthusiasts and sure to dazzle the general public.

  • 01 of 10

    Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

    Sarracenia purple pitcher plants with vein-marked pitchers in deep red

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Purple pitcher plants are known for their deep red flowers and vein-marked pitchers. They make great plants for water gardens in the North due to their hardiness (in fact, an alternate common name is "Northern pitcher plant").

    The best way to display one is as the focal point of your water garden, surrounded by shorter plants that won't obscure its beauty and flowers. The purple pitcher plant can reach up to 20 inches tall when in flower and is native to eastern and north-central North America.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 6 (but varies by subspecies)
    • Color Varieties: Flowers are purplish-red; pitchers are greenish, with red veining
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Boggy, acidic
  • 02 of 10

    Yellow Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia flava)

    Yellow pitcher plant.
    AlessandroZocc/Getty Images

    For a bigger and brighter specimen, grow a yellow pitcher plant. Native to the American Southeast, this plant reaches one to three feet high. The yellow pitcher plant employs the chemical content to kill trapped insects.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Flowers are yellow; pitchers are medium green to greenish-yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Boggy, sandy, humusy, acidic
  • 03 of 10

    California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica)

    Cobra lilies hooded and reared up like cobra snakes.
    SoopySue/Getty Images

    The California pitcher plant, also known as "cobra lily", is native to southern Oregon and Northern California. It can get as tall as 39 inches. Difficult to grow, it is a plant most nature lovers settle for appreciating when they spot it while hiking along bogs and stream banks in its native range.

    Its namesake "cobra" heads are a wonderful conversation piece for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Flowers are yellow to purplish-green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Gravelly, boggy ground saturated with cold water
  • 04 of 10

    Sun Pitcher Plant (Heliamphora spp.)

    Pitcher of sun pitcher plant.
    TomekD76/Getty Images

    Marsh or "sun" pitcher plants are native to South America. Their pitcher length is from six to 16 inches, depending on the species (of which there are more than 20), but the plants stand only four to 10 inches tall. The most attractive species are deep-red and they all have bell-shaped flowers.

    Sun pitcher plants are among the most difficult of all the pitcher plants for gardeners to grow (even if they own greenhouses). You have to get the temperature and humidity just right.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Varies according to species, but most are tropical plants (zones 10 to 11)
    • Color Varieties: Depends on the species
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade (depending on the species)
    • Soil Needs: Usually grown in sphagnum moss, within a container
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    White Trumpet Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla)

    Pitcher and flower of white pitcher plant.
    cturtletrax/Getty Images

    You may well think the white trumpet pitcher plant, a native to the American Southeast, is the most attractive of the lot. This accounts for their popularity, along with the fact that they are relatively easy to grow for pitcher plants.

    Their pitchers are characterized by striking, dark veins in a pattern that stands out boldly against such a bright white background. A white trumpet pitcher plant grows one to three feet tall. You grow them for their pitchers, but their red flowers are a nice bonus.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pitchers are white with dark veins; flowers are reddish
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Boggy, humusy, acidic
  • 06 of 10

    Western Australian Pitcher Plant (Cephalotus follicularis)

    Western Australian pitcher plants growing in ground.
    Manassiri/Getty Images

    Western Australian pitcher plant is one of the tiniest pitcher plants. The plants and pitchers become only 1 to 1.5 inches long. The outstanding feature of this Australian native is the striping on the pitchers. 'Eden Black' is a cultivar dark enough to be considered a rare truly black plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Color Varieties: Pitchers are green to dark purple; flowers are whitish and aesthetically insignificant
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Typically displayed in a container, where the growing medium is sphagnum moss
  • 07 of 10

    Nepenthes x ventrata and Relatives

    Nepenthes plants in hanging pots with their pitchers hanging down.
    Noppamon/Getty Images

    Some types of pitcher plants are woody vines: These are known as the "tropical pitcher plants" (Nepenthes spp.). The pitchers in these cases hang down, making them an ideal choice for hanging baskets. It's an interesting look that makes them among the most popular pitcher plants for enthusiasts.

    There are many species of Nepenthes. For instance, three closely related species native to the Philippines are:

    • Nepenthes ventricosa
    • Nepenthes alata
    • Nepenthes x ventrata (a hybrid of Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes alata)

    All three are best grown and displayed in greenhouses in the North. Their flowers are insignificant. The pitchers can become up to nine inches long. Even within the same species, there is quite a bit of variability of traits (such as vine length).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Pitcher color can be greenish-yellow, orange, purple, or red; some are heavily speckled.
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade (depending on species)
    • Soil Needs: Sphagnum moss (placed in containers) is the typical growing medium
  • 08 of 10

    Villose Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes villosa)

    Nepenthes villosa pitcher closeup.

    photograph by dorisj/Getty Images

    Nepenthes villosa is another tropical species. It is native to Malaysian Borneo. Although it does flower, it is grown for its colorful pitchers, which are bright orange. The pitchers are typically four inches long.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Sphagnum moss (placed in containers) is the typical growing medium
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Kinabalu Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes kinabaluensis)

    Nepenthes kinabaluensis pitcher closeup.

    Jordan Lye/Getty Images

    Another tropical pitcher plant is Nepenthes kinabaluensis. It too is native to Malaysian Borneo. In fact, it is a hybrid, one of whose parents is N. villosa. But its pitchers are a bit larger.

    The plant is grown for its vibrant red pitchers more so than for its aesthetically insignificant blooms.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Sphagnum moss (placed in containers) is the typical growing medium
  • 10 of 10

    Veitch's Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes veitchii)

    Striped and mottled pitcher of Nepenthes veitchii.

    Beachmite Photography/Getty Images

    Another Malaysian Borneo native, Nepenthes veitchii is stunning, right down to its mottled inner wall. But it's the outside that is the most eye-catching.

    Its flowers may not be ornamental enough to justify the effort involved in growing such a fussy plant, for all but green thumbs, but the striped pitchers surely are. The latter can become one foot in length.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Orange, red, and yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Sphagnum moss (placed in containers) is the typical growing medium