Carnivorous Plants

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I was watching Home & Garden Television one day when a beautiful red pitcher shaped plant was shown. This made me curious. I went on an all out search for this beauty, nicknamed the pitcher plant. For any of you who have seen the episode this plant was on, I’m sure you’ll recall how beautiful his plant was. Needless to say, the first pitcher plant I bought had a different idea of what a pitcher was! From there, I killed some. Then, an idea struck me. These beauties grow in wet boglands, so why not create a wet bogland inside an aquarium? Needless to say, I’m on my way to growing some more of these exotic beauties. But, just what is a pitcher plant and what do they do?

The Pitcher Plant, as it is commonly called belongs to three different families of flowering plants that use their leaves which are shaped like pitchers to trap insects. The pitchers produce a sweet nectar on the top of the plant to attract insects. The insides of the pitchers are lined with downward-pointing hairs that are used to prevent the insect from escaping once it is in the pitcher. Juices that are contained in the bottom of the leaf eventually digest the insect.

The three families of pitcher plants are the Sarraceniaceae, Nepenthaceae, and the Cephalotaceae.

Although there are many different types and sizes of pitcher plants out there, we will look at only a few. The fascination of these native perennials seems to continue even after you’ve grown one or two. Could it be there unique flowers, their foliage, or maybe just the ability to rid the world of an overabundance of insects?

The Cephalotus grows pitchers that are only about 2 1/2” long. This pitcher plant is said to be one of the more difficult ones to grow, possibly because of the fact that its roots must have plenty of room to grow, or it is sure to die. The only species of this plant is the follicularis.

The Darlingtonia, or Cobra Lily as it is commonly called, has only one species also, the californica. This is supposed to also be difficult to grow.

The Nepenthes grows the large pitchers that you may have seen on TV. These pitchers grow on a vine, and have two different ways of trapping insects. One is by using the hairs we talked about above, but some of these larger pitchers don’t have the hairs and trap their prey by producing a slick, waxy surface on their interiors that insects can’t climb up. An interesting fact about Nepenthes is that, even after the seeds have been dormant for awhile, there is still a possibility of germination.

According to Phill Mann, a specialist in Nepenthes, “My answer regarding germination of the Nepenthes seeds was that provided the seeds are treated correctly they will last up to 12 – 14 months. I had seed of N. fusca that I had collected in Sabah that I managed at least 90% germination after 14 months.

Seeds of species such as N. bicalcarata and N. ampullaris seem to have a very short life of a matter of weeks. When considering the climate where they occur, it is possible that the seed never actually “dries” and there must be a considerable percentage of moisture all the time.

Seed collected should be “dried” to avoid molds taking over and then I place them into the small envelopes and into a plastic bag. These then are stored in the “butter” section of the refrigerator.

In vitro germination usually takes 11 days to 3 months. I have had the occasional seeds still germinate after 6 – 7 months. I think it mainly depends on how long you can keep the cultures going before they dry. My biggest problem is room so seeds rarely stay longer than 5 months in the vials.

Sterilization would play a large part in germination, as factors such as too much bleach (or too long), insufficient rinse after sterilization would definitely have adverse reaction in germination.

Generally I find that glasshouse produced seeds are the worst for fungal attack. One theory put forward was that a glasshouse is so moist all of the time, that seed will take longer to mature and ripen, allowing contamination to invade the capsules.”

Phill can be contacted at: [email protected]

If you are wondering where you can get your own pitcher plant at, Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. at has quite a nice selection. I have never ordered from them, but they certainly have a unique catalog with a wonderful selection in it.