Carnivorous Plants: Trumpet Pitcher

I am excited to share with you one of my new loves: carnivorous plants!

Carnivorous plants rivet me. They eat insects, yes, but these plants are considered carnivorous rather than insectivorous because they have also been known to eat a stray tree frog or two!

In the book Carnivorous Plants, Adrian Slack hypothesizes that carnivorous plants first evolved when a leaf rolled into a small cup and collected some rain water. Insects could have drowned in this water; then their bodies could have decayed via bacteria; the resulting nutrients could have fed the plant leaves.

If these plants absorbed these nutrients, they would have had a greater advantage over other plants and would have been more likely to reproduce. Descendants of these insectivorous plants that had deeper leaf “cups” would be even more successful. Thus pitcher plants with their deep cups evolved as a result of nutritional advantage. Early insectivorous plants could have gone on to devise other methods of catching insects such as flypaper and spring traps; after that, the first pitfalls could have become extinct.

That could be how carnivorous plants came into existence!
How cool!

Over the next few blog posts, I am going to introduce you to the carnivorous plant friends that I have made at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center in Providence, RI. You can expect to learn about trumpet pitchers, tropical pitchers, sundews, butterworts, and Venus fly traps.

Today, I want to introduce you to the trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia), which is native to North America!

It is also native to Connecticut! There is a bog in New London that grows wild purple pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea).

One of the things I love about trumpet pitchers is that you can watch the pitcher form from a leaf. The trumpet pitcher begins with a thick leaf.

The thick leaf that crosses in front of the pitcher is becoming a pitcher itself.
Hello budding new trumpet pitcher!

After the thick leaf is formed, the plant then shapes the leaf into a tube.

A tube forms in the leaf

Finally, a hood is added.

The hood is the last part to form

How do trumpet pitchers catch bugs?

The outside of the trumpet pitcher is covered with nectar. It’s like a trail that leads Hansel and Gretel straight to the witch. Likewise, these bugs are following a tasty trail—yum, food! —and it brings them closer and closer to the trap. Hungry, they might migrate to the edge of the pitcher, called the nectar roll because it is so sweet; or they might move to the top of the trap, called the hood. The bugs visit by flying or by walking from the ground; they snack hungrily until they come too close to the inside of the trap; then they lose their footing or become disoriented; and, suddenly, Whoops! There goes the bug!

Many hoods will have downward hairs that will direct a bug to the pitcher. The pitcher itself often has slippery inner walls that cause the insect to fall into a pool of water. The water often contains digestive enzymes that will paralyze the insect or the animal once it lands in it. People sometimes report that the insects seem “drunk” once they come into contact with this pool of liquid.

What kind of trumpet pitchers are there?

There are so many kinds! I will share with you the ones that I have met at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. Please note that these identifications are guesses and have not been confirmed by the botanical center.

White Trumpet (Sarracenia leucophylla)

Sarracenia leucophylla

You will notice the white on the upper part of the trumpet. I love how the white is decorated with a web of green. On different plants, the webbing can shift from green to red to crimson. Because of this colorful variation, it is considered one of the most beautiful plants in the savannahs where it grows. This species is native to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.

(Source: Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack)

Northern Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea).

Small and green, the pitchers on the left are Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea.

Pictured in the lower left, the northen pitcher lies horizontally with a curved open mouth. This pitcher is more narrow than the southern pitcher, pictured in the upper right. Notice how the upper part of the northern pitcher is less bulbous than that of the southern pitcher. The northern pitcher grows from New Jersey all the way north to the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

(Source: Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack)

Southern Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa).

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa

This pitcher plant also lies horizontally with a curved open mouth. The upper tube of the pitcher is wider and more bell-like than that of the northern pitcher. It has hairs on both sides of it hood. The southern pitcher grows in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

(Source: Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack)

Pale Pitcher (Sarracenia alata)

Sarracenia alata

The pitcher of this species seldom exceeds 26 inches in height. It is pale green when young, often becoming longitudinal lined with straight red veins that continue onto the hood. The lid overhangs the mouth of the tube, being sometimes horizontal. The whole pitcher may later become reddish. They live in Alabama, Louisana, Mississippi, and Texas.

(Source: Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack)

Still to Come: Trumpet Pitcher Flowers

Trumpet pitcher preparing to bloom. Stay tuned!

Next Week: Parrot Pitcher (Sarracenia psittacina)

Sarracenia psittacina

Next week you will meet the parrot pitcher! These plants are so cool. A type of trumpet pitcher, the parrot pitcher has a slightly different type of trap. I will teach you about it next week. Stay tuned to learn about the parrot pitcher’s magic tricks, illusions, and secret trap door!

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