Sarracenia purpurea subsp. venosa
Common Name: purple pitcher plant 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Sarraceniaceae
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 0.75 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Red
Sun: Full sun
Water: Wet
Maintenance: High
Suggested Use: Water Plant
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Colorful
Tolerate: Wet Soil


Strict adherence to the cultural needs of this plant is essential. In residential areas, plants are 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 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 in water. Soil recommendations include Canadian peat or various mixes of peat/sand or peat/perlite. Irrigation hoses and underground liners should be considered. 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 for winter dormancy, hence they often do not grow well as houseplants. Do not collect these plants from the wild.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Sarracenia purpurea is native to eastern North America. It is distinguished from most other species of Sarracenia by that fact that it is a compact plant with decumbent to upright pitchers that are open to the sky (they have vertical hoods), thus each pitcher collects rainwater in which trapped insects are killed by drowning in the rainwater/enzyme mixture located at the base of each pitcher. Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea is found from Minnesota through the Great Lakes to Newfoundland and south along the Atlantic Coast to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Sarracenia purpurea subsp. venosa is found primarily on the coastal plain from the New Jersey Pine Barrens south to Georgia and west from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana. These two varieties will readily cross and form hybrids where their ranges overlap, making identification difficult.

The subspecies venosa is typically found growing in the peaty soils of savannas and upland swamp margins. The modified leaves form a basal rosette of decumbent to upright pitchers (4-10” long) with upward faced open ends and a layer of fine hairs on the outer surface. The length of the pitcher is typically less than three times the diameter of the opening. The pitcher color is quite variable, but usually green with purple-burgundy near the flared lip and a prominent net-like pattern of veins. Insects are lured to the pitchers by the attractive leaf colors and nectar. Downward pointing hairs on the inside near the lip prevent trapped insects from escaping. Insects eventually slide down a smooth walled area into a water pool (mostly rain water with some added plant enzymes) at the pitcher bottom where they will drown. Insects decompose and nutrients are absorbed. Unusable parts of insect carasses accumulate in the bottom stalk over time. In spring, a single flower rises on a leafless stalk well above the leaves to 8-15” tall. Flower stalks are crooked at the top, and the globular, 5-petaled, red flower (to 2” diameter) hangs down. Flowers may be mildly aromatic. 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.

The specific epithet purpurea means "purple", in reference to the color of the flowers and pitchers. The infraspecific epithet venosa means "distinctly veined"

Pitcher plants are described as carnivorous plants because they trap and kill insects (e.g., flies, wasps, ants) 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.


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.


Bog garden is best. Also may be grown in containers, terrariums (indoors under grow lights), greenhouses or as an indoor houseplant. 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.