By Vic Piatt and Urszula Zarzecka-Ronky
North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) are one of the plant world’s beautiful oddities. They turn the tables on the insect world, becoming the predator. As plants can’t physically pursue their prey, Sarracenia has developed several methods to lure their prey (insects) to them.
The leaves of Sarracenia have evolved into colorful funnel or pitcher shapes. They use these colors, along with scent glands located along the lip of the tube, to lure unsuspecting insects with the promise of nectar. The pitcher’s lip is covered in a slippery and waxy film that causes the insect to lose footing and fall into the pitcher tube, where downward-pointing hairs prevent the insect from escaping, ultimately becoming a meal for the plant.
Sarracenia can be found growing in boggy, acidic environments. They are not actual aquatic plants, as they don’t sit in water, but their crowns grow in dry soil, and their roots reach down into the wet ground beneath. Sarracenia can also be enjoyed as container plants.
Create a Mini Bog
At Mt. Cuba, you’ll find pitcher plants not only by the ponds but also in mini bogs throughout the gardens. Recreate this look at home with a mini bog of your own. First, visit your local garden center to find pitcher plants and materials. There are numerous cultivars of Sarracenia to choose from, allowing you to create a colorful and intriguing display.
To create these bog-like conditions, start by choosing a container with a drainage hole. At Mt. Cuba Center, we use ceramic pots, but clay or plastic pots will also work. These plants thrive in acidic soil, so first, create a 50/50 mix of peat moss and sand in a separate container. Moisten the 50/50 mix slightly before planting, so the finished bog container is easier to water—place the soil mixture to the side.
Insert a circular piece of pond liner into your container to create a reservoir. The liner should be about 1/3 the height of your container. It should be loose and wavey against the side. Add the soil mix in and around the “waves” of the liner. This allows soil below the surface of the container to stay constantly wet and let water flow over the wavy edges and out the drainage hole to keep the crown of the plants from sitting in water. Position the crown of your plants a half-inch below the rim of the container, then fill in around the crown of the plant, leaving that half-inch between the rim and crown of the plant.
Add a layer of moist Sphagnum moss around the plantings for a more finished look. Place your mini bog in a location with full sun and water them thoroughly two to three times a week, especially during dry spells. Bog containers never need fertilizer but should be divided every one to two years.