Sarracenia flava
Common Name: yellow pitcher plant 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Sarraceniaceae
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Water Plant, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Colorful

Culture

Strict adherence to the cultural needs of this plant is essential. In residential areas, this plant is best grown in the consistently moist soils of a bog garden. The bog garden should be prepared in advance of planting. In the St. Louis area, the bog garden should be sited in a protected location with a winter mulch. If a bog garden is not available, then growing plants in containers may be the next best option. Plants require full sun. In part shade, leaf coloring does not develop as it should and pitchers droop. Plants need an acidic, humusy muck that is constantly damp but not watery. Soils must never dry out, but plant crowns should not sit for prolonged periods in water. Soil recommendations include Canadian peat or mixes of peat/sand or peat/perlite. Irrigation hoses and underground liners should be considered. Plants have a horizontal rhizome. Plants flower in spring, produce new pitchers in spring-summer and the pitchers mostly die back as winter approaches. In cold climates, trim leaves back in winter as pitchers die, but only trim dead tissue. Linear, sword-shaped leaves may remain evergreen in winter. Soil may be mulched with pine needles in winter to protect plants from cold temperatures. Most reproduction comes from continuous budding along the rhizome as opposed to self-seeding. Easiest propagation is by rhizome division. Plants may be grown from seed with effort, but will not flower for the first 4-5 years. Plants may also be grown in pots/containers (plastic best) placed outside on a sunny deck or patio area. Container soils can be 50% peat and 50% perlite/vermiculite. Potting soil and/or fertilizer may kill the plant. Containers should be placed in a tray of water that keeps the soil constantly moist. Containers may be overwintered by inserting them to the rim in soil in protected locations. Dig up containers in spring to place back in full sun areas. Containers may also be brought inside in winter with somewhat reduced watering. Plants need full sun in the growing season and cold temperatures in winter dormancy, hence they simply do not grow well as houseplants. Do not collect these plants from the wild.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sarracenia flava, known as yellow pitcher plant or yellow trumpet, is native to sandy bogs, wet seeps and savannas in coastal plain areas from far southeastern Virginia to Florida west to Mobile Bay, Alabama. This is a stemless herbaceous perennial that grows in mucky soils usually in full sun. Modified leaves form upright, slender-fluted pitchers of variable height ranging from 20” to 36”. This species also produces a second type leaves, namely long, slender, linear, winter leaves (phyllodia), resembling those of an iris. Pitchers are narrow with a horizontal lid that prevents most rain from entering the tube. Lids are attractive landing sites for flying insects. Insects are lured to the pitchers by the attractive leaf colors and nectar. Nectar reportedly has a paralyzing effect on insects. Each pitcher is slippery inside, and insects fall down the tube into a digestive juice liquid at the bottom of the pitcher. Insects decompose and nutrients are absorbed. Color is quite variable for this species. Typical form is a green pitcher with red near the throat. Additional forms include coppertop, red, green, red tube and veined. In spring, before the pitchers emerge, a single flower rises on a leafless stalk to as much as 36” tall but usually much less. Flower height is usually somewhat shorter than the pitcher height. Flower stalks are crooked at the top, and the globular, 5-petaled, bright yellow flower (to 2” diameter) hangs down. Flowers typically have a strong musty fragrance. Each flower is followed by a 5-parted seed capsule. New pitcher leaves appear in spring and summer replacing old leaves that die and fall off.

The genus name Sarracenia honors Dr. Michael Sarrazan (1659-1734) of Quebec who reportedly sent the first pitcher plants to Europe around 1700.

Specific epithet means yellow.

Pitcher plants are described as carnivorous plants because they trap and kill insects (e.g., flies, ants, beetles, wasps) and similar prey (e.g., mites, spiders) by luring them into trumpet-shaped pitchers (modified leaves) where the insects become trapped and die. Nutrients from the decayed pest bodies are absorbed by the plant as nourishment through special cells located at the base of each pitcher.

Problems

Plants will do poorly if specific cultural requirements are not followed. Protect from strong freezing winds. Winter hardiness is generally not a problem in the St. Louis area for this plant. Feeding plants manually is not advisable. Do not fertilize plantings. Watch for aphids, scale, mealybugs, moth larvae, leaf spot and root rot. Pitcher plants in the wild often exhibit poor growth in years with dry springs, with some rhizomes remaining dormant for the entire growing season.

Garden Uses

Bog garden is best. Also may be grown in containers, greenhouses or as an indoor houseplant. Perhaps too tall for terraria. Growth in containers as an indoor plant can be difficult because of the need for growing season sun and winter dormancy. May be grown outside in low spots or other continuously moist locations, but this can be difficult and is not recommended.