Pitcher Plant Family

Colin Clayton & Roger Spencer

Perennial rhizomatous insectivorous herbs, generally without stems. Leaves take the form of rosettes of pitcher-like traps that are ridged on one side and often with a lid-like flap on the top; stipules absent. Flowers bisexual, bent over, on stems arising from the centre of the rosette, generally with 5 free petals and sepals; stamen number variable but more than twice as many as the petals. Carpels (3)-5, united. Ovary superior, ovule placentation axile. Fruit a capsule.

Plants grow naturally in nutrient-impoverished marshland.

Pitchers all possess some degree of carnivory. Insects and small animals are attracted to the mouth of the pitcher by chemical and colour attraction, and by window-like translucent zones; inside there are backward-projecting hairs that assist in insect capture and retention.

The insect eventually drowns and is digested by the action of bacteria (Darlingtonia, Heliamphora) or enzymes (Sarracenia).

Pitcher plants were available in Europe in the 19th century. In Australia, however, they did not become available to the general public until after 1970 when Steve Clemesha imported seed from the USA and grew them successfully. A rapid succession of growers in the 1980s included Jenny Brownfield, Stephen Jackson and Gordon Cheers, followed by professional nurserymen who turned their skills to mass-production using techniques such as tissue culture.

Flowers bisexual (cf. Nepenthaceae); leaves pitcher-like, arranged in a basal rosette.

In Victoria at Geelong Botanic Gardens; Dingley Home and Garden, Dingley; The Victorian Carnivorous Plant Society's Annual Show; The Australian Carnivorous Plant Society's Annual Show; and at Cairns Botanic Gardens, Cairns, Queensland.

3 genera and 32 species from E & W North America and  NE S America.

Popular: Slack (1979), Pietropaolo (1986), Lecoufle (1990), Cheers (1992).

Source: Clayton, C.; Spencer, R. (1997). Sarraceniaceae. In: Spencer, R.. Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 2. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Part 1. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.

kingdom Plantae
phylum   Tracheophyta
class    Magnoliopsida
superorder     Asteranae
order      Ericales
Higher taxa
Subordinate taxa
genus        Darlingtonia Torr.
genus        Heliamphora Benth.
genus        Sarracenia L.