Pitcher Plant, the name of carnivorous plants belonging to two separate families. One family is native to the United States and Canada; the other, to Southeast Asia, Australia, and Madagascar. The plants are named for the pitcherlike structures in which they trap insects.
The pitchers of the American plants consist of tubular leaves with lidlike hoods that secrete nectar. The pitcher is lined with stiff hairs pointing downward; the bottom portion contains a watery liquid. Insects attracted by the nectar get caught in the hairs, slip downward to the throat of the pitcher, and slide into the liquid, where they drown. The plant then absorbs phosphorus and nitrogen from the insects' bodies.
The common pitcher plant, also called huntsman's cup and sidesaddle flower, grows in bogs throughout eastern North America from Labrador to Florida. It also grows in the Midwest. It is a perennial herb with a solitary purplish-red flower borne on a leafless stalk. At the base of the plant is a cluster of green or dark purple pitchers, 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) long.
The yellow pitcher plant, or trumpets, grows from Virginia to Florida and west to Alabama. It has drooping yellow flowers. The trumpet-shaped pitchers are crimson or yellowish-green with crimson throats. They grow to four feet (1.2 m) in length. The California pitcher plant, or cobra lily, is found on the Pacific Coast. It has upright pitchers that grow to a length of three feet (90 cm). Each pitcher is capped by a white-spotted hood with two forked appendages. The flowers are yellowish-green with maroon tips.
The pitcher plants of the Eastern Hemisphere are climbing or tree-perching plants. The midrib of each leaf is extended to form a long tendril; at the tip of the tendril the midrib becomes enlarged and hollowed, forming the pitcher. The pitcher usually is cup-shaped and lidded, and may be more than six inches (15 cm) in diameter. In many species the pitchers are spotted or mottled various colors. Some species are grown as houseplants.
The common pitcher plant is Sarracenia purpurea; yellow pitcher plant, S. flava; California pitcher plant, Darlingtonia californica. All belong to the pitcher plant family, Sarraceniaceae. The Eastern Hemisphere pitcher plants (70 species) belong to the genus Nepenthes of the family Nepenthaceae.