Thursday, October 10, 2019

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

                  Pitcher plants in Edwin Forsythe NWR, NJ - Photo: R.Albers/USFWS

October is baseball playoffs time but these pitchers have a longer season and can be deadly. The pitcher plant is one of those plants that is best known for letting flies and insects think they’re getting a free meal and then making them their own meal.

Pitcher plants tend to grow where most other plants can’t grow. The soils in which they grow are poor in minerals and extremely acidic. The plants don’t require insects to survive but it is thought that extra nutrients from insects allow plants to grow larger and healthier, and are more likely to reproduce.

They are named for their tall, tube-like stems, which resemble pitchers for water.

Sarracenia purpurea is commonly known as the purple pitcher plant, northern pitcher plant, turtle socks, or side-saddle flower and is a carnivorous plant in the family Sarraceniaceae.

In New Jersey, they’re common in the bogs and swamps of the Pine Barrens and can also be found in Kuser Bog at High Point State Park in Sussex County (a cedar bog believed to be the highest in the world) and in the White Lake Natural Resource Area in Warren County.

Prey insects, often small flies and ants, are attracted by the plant’s scent. Evidently, the plant’s chemical compounds attract various insects.

The pitcher plant’s frilly leaf tips have stiff, downward-pointing hairs. These hairs prevent the insects from climbing back out and they end up in a pool of liquid at the bottom of the pitcher. The liquid contains digestive enzymes that break down the insects and allow the plant to absorb the nutrients.

Pitcher plant showing the hairs - Photo by Kmmeyer - Northern Minnesota, CC BY-SA 3.0 
New Jersey actually has three groups of native carnivorous plants. Besides pitcher plants, we have sundews and bladderworts. Carnivorous plants evolved to eat animals because they grow in wet, nutrient-poor soils and so have adapted to get nutrition in other ways.

The purple pitcher plant is the showiest of the three with bright foliage and red flowers it will stand out in a bog or swamp plants and can often be seen growing from sphagnum moss.

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