Strict adherence to the cultural needs of this species are essential in order to grow this plant well. In residential areas, it is best grown in the consistently moist soils of an artificial 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. 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.
Subsp. jonesii is currently listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act, as amended. Acquisition of plants for a home garden must be done in full compliance with federal regulations applicable to endangered species as well as any applicable laws from the State where the plant grows. Acquisition documentation must be kept to support any further review which may occur. This plant must be protected in order to insure its survival in the wild.
Sarracenia rubra, commonly known as sweet pitcher plant, is a stemless carnivorous (technically insectivorous), herbaceous perennial that typically grows to 24” tall. It is native to mucky soils of sunny bogs, swamps and streambanks scattered in the southeastern U. S. from North Carolina to Mississippi.
Modified leaves form distinctive, upright, slender-fluted pitchers of variable height ranging from 12” to 18” tall. Pitchers are narrow, each one having a somewhat horizontal lid that arches over the tube opening and, among other things, prevents most rain from entering the tube. Tube opening (mouth) is about 1” wide. Pitchers are typically green with distinctive but variable amounts of red veining. Pitcher lids are usually red on top. Pitchers which emerge in spring are smaller with less distinctive red veining that the larger pitchers which emerge in summer. This species infrequently produces slender, linear, winter leaves (phyllodia) in warm winter locations.
In spring, a single flower rises on a leafless stalk (sometimes two flower stalks emerge from the same rhizome point) to about the same height as a mature pitcher. Flower stalks are crooked at the top, with the globular, 5-petaled, maroon-to-dark red flower hanging downward. Flowers bloom from April to June. Flowers typically are fragrant. Each flower is followed by a 5-parted seed capsule.
Subsp. jonesii is native to bogs and streamsides in several small areas in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the North Carolina-South Carolina border where it is now close to extinction in the wild. Subsp. jonesii is included on the Federal Endangered Species list. Its pitchers are typically taller than those of the species. Pitchers emerge green but acquire bronze or copper tints with showy maroon veins as they mature in summer. Summer pitchers are more vigorous than the smaller spring ones. It differs from the species in having (a) slightly taller stature (to 25”), (b) slightly larger mouth (to 1 5/8”), (c) slight expansion or bulge in the upper 1/ 3 of the pitcher, and (d) sweeter flower aroma. It is in danger of extinction from depreciation and destruction of its natural habitat. Some experts believe subsp. jonesii should be elevated to its own species S. jonesii. Others believe it should be including as part of S. rubra.
Genus name honors Dr. Michael Sarrasin de l’Etang of Quebec who reportedly sent the first pitcher plants to Europe around 1700.
Specific epithet from Latin means red.
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 their narrow trumpet-shaped pitchers where the insects become trapped and die. Pitcher lids are attractive landing sites for flying insects. Insects are lured to the pitchers by the attractive leaf colors and sweet-smelling nectar. Each pitcher is slippery inside with downward pointing hairs. Insects fall down the tube into a digestive juice liquid at the bottom of the pitcher. Nectar reportedly has a paralyzing effect on insects. Once trapped at the bottom on the pitcher, insects are unable to escape. Insects decompose and nutrients from the decayed pest bodies are absorbed by the plant as nourishment through special cells at the base of each pitcher.
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.
Often grown not so much for their ornamental beauty as for their extremely unusual characteristics. Bog garden is best. May be grown in greenhouses. Growth in containers as an indoor plant can be very 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.
This endangered plant should never be removed from the wild.