Native to North America, the unusual specimen known as a purple pitcher plant may be a brand new discovery to many gardeners. The plant calls boggy, waterlogged locations (like the edge of ponds or swamps) home, and can easily be identified by its saturated burgundy hue. Each mature purple pitcher plant produces a single 3-inch flower, which begins as a downward "nodding" head and eventually reveals yellowish, pollen-bearing stamens.
Best planted in early spring, purple pitcher plants will grow slowly—some varietals can take as many as five years to reach maturity and flower. The "pitchers" referenced in the common name for this plant are actually modified leaves. A rosette of these leaves radiates out from the base of the flower stalk, and the pitchers themselves can grow to be up to 8 inches long. While decorative to the human eye, the pitcher shape also serves a practical purpose—their container-like structure holds water, where the prey of this carnivorous plant is eventually drowned.
|Botanical Name||Sarracenia purpurea subsp. venosa|
|Common Name||Purple pitcher plant,|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6–18 in. tall, 12-24 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Humusy, consistently moist|
|Bloom Time||Late spring, early summer|
|Hardiness Zones||6–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Purple Pitcher Plant Care
Similar to the storied and famous venus fly trap, purple pitcher plants are a carnivorous plant species. The bog environment in which they typically grow in the wild is nutrient-poor, so the plants need to supplement their diets with food beyond what their roots can pull up—hence, their leaves serving double-duty as pitchers.
Insects and other small creatures are lured to them by their color and smell. It's easy for a bug to descend into the plant's pitcher, but hard for it to get out, due to internal walls that are waxy, slippery, and covered in rigid hairs that point downwards. Faced with having to climb out "against the grain," insect victims end up tiring and dropping to the bottom of the pitcher, where they drown in the rainwater. Nutrients from the decayed bodies are eventually absorbed by the plants.
To use the purple pitcher plant in your landscaping, take your location cue from its natural habitat. Pitcher plants prefer wet conditions, so look to plant yours in a bog garden, damp swamp, rain garden, or at the edge of a water feature.
As a general rule of thumb, most carnivorous plants grow best in full sunlight. Purple pitcher plants follow suit, thriving best under at least six to eight hours of bright light daily. In hotter climates, it can handle a bit of shade as well. If the plant is displaying floppy leaves or pitchers, that's usually a sign it's not getting enough light.
Purple pitcher plants do best in a soil mixture that is consistently moist but also well-draining. To create a blend they will truly thrive in, combine sand, sphagnum moss, and peaty soil together in a shallow container.
Consistently water your purple pitcher plant so that its soil never dries out—it should always be damp, but never soggy or runny. Additionally, make sure to water the whole plant—it's important to not only water at the soil and base of the plant but also from the top so that the plant's leaves and pitchers get moisture as well.
Temperature and Humidity
Purple pitcher plants will do best in moderate to warm temperatures that range from 55 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, pitch plants love humidity. If your outdoor summer environment doesn't provide enough, consider misting the plant regularly to ensure it is kept moist enough.
Though not necessary, pitcher plants can benefit from two to three applications of a slow-release fertilizer a year—any more than that, and you could risk damaging the plant. Look for a fertilizer blend formulated for bromeliads or orchids.
The pests that most commonly cause issues for pitcher plants are aphids, thrips, and mealybugs. You may spy the actual insects on the plants, or you may just notice signs of their presence, including a sticky, sap-like substance on the stem or leaves, chewed up leaves, or a chalky, cotton-like fuzz on parts of the plant. If you notice any signs of infestation, don't wait to act—just because the plant is carnivorous, doesn't mean it can protect itself against an infestation. Treat your plant with a mild insecticide or horticultural oil like neem oil.
In addition to various pests, pitcher plants can be susceptible to fungal disease, especially considering the boggy, moist locations they're typically found in. Signs of a fungal infection include white or black sooty mold on any part of the plant. If you notice an issue, you can treat it cautiously with a sulfur-based fungicide.