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My husband says living with us is like a cross between the Little Shop of Horrors and Silence of the Lambs. My sons have quite an interest in both insects and insect eating plants - although they make a clear distinction between pet insects and feeding insects. They don't seem to like flies very much, and neither do I, so these are used as food for plants. It is admittedly a bit gruesome though.
If I were to mention carnivorous plants, most people would think of the Venus Flytrap. Although the most common, the fly trap actually is my favourite and no carnivorous would be complete without one, but it would get boring to have too many, and there are many different types of carnivorous plants available. Variety is the spice of life as they say and this is an excellent addition to a carnivorous plant collection.
Sarracenia plants are more commonly known as North American pitcher plants or trumpet pitchers for their long trumpet shape leaves which also serve as traps. These are considered one of the hardiest of the carnivorous plants, and as such are ideal for beginners. The Venus Fly Trap may be a bit more exciting, but this will be easier to keep. Many people have even successfully grown these outdoors in the UK. The plants are native to the USA, and would naturally live in bog-land, primarily in North and South Carolina, but some varieties have been found as far north as Canada on the Eastern seaboard. If you are looking for a variety to grow outdoors, Sarracenia purpura is considered the most cold tolerant, and should be able to tolerate the typical British winter without difficulty.
I bought my plant in a local garden store so I am not certain of it's exact variety. There are 15 different types of Sarracenia, plus limitless hybrids. Having studied countless photos, I believe my plant to be Sarracenia purpura. It has long green trumpet shaped traps which become marked with deep purple patterns as they mature. I am keeping mine as a houseplant. I have considered growing these outdoors, but as I actually want insects in my garden - I don't want something gobbling them up. They are said to be vulnerable to aphids but mine have not had a problem. We had some escape from the ant farm and the Venus fly trap was attacked but the only aphids on the trumpet seem to be a couple of green specks in the traps. I have a major problem with slugs outdoors, but these do not eat slugs or snails, in fact the reverse may occur. According to what I have read they may be attacked by snails and slugs, but the damage is usually limited to a few bites. A shame - if they ate slugs I'd have a dozen in the garden.
This plant does not have a trap door to close on it's victim. The trap works by several mechanisms. The plants secretes a nectar around the lips of the trap. this draws the insect and intoxicates it, using a chemical which acts as an insect narcotic. So in short the plant gets the poor bug stoned out of it's little head. the lip of the trap is very slippery and pointed downward. Imagine trying to walk on a dance floor coated in slippery wax with a downward slant after a couple of bottle of vodka and you get the idea. Sooner or later the insects slips and falls down the sloping trap. Once inside, there is no escape. The inner leaf has a waxy substance and downward pointing hairs to ensure the insect keeps falling back down, no matter how hard it tries to get out, and keep in mind the bug will be very intoxicated as well. The bottom of the trap ahs a pool of digestive enzymes ready to digest the bug - dead or alive. The whole thing sounds rather gruesome, and this plant can use freshly killed bugs so we just swat the fly before feeding, but I believe a few aphids have been devoured alive. This is not mentioned in any of the articles I have found buy mine have a very distinct web like structure at the bottom as well.
If you let this grow outdoors, it should collect its own food and will not need any further feeding. if grown indoors you are meant to be able to give this a very weak feed of plant food if you can't supply any bugs, but if you give it too much it may die. Personally the closest I have ever coming to feeding a carnivorous plant anything other than bugs is to give a bit of water from an aquarium, which will contain some dissolved fish waste. Do not ever feed this or any other carnivorous plant meat. Also do not keep all the traps full. In nature this plant wouldn't eat every day and it takes it a long time to digest a single bug. A fly every few weeks in the warmer months should be fine. They are meant to particularly like ants, which may aid their digestion but ants are pets to us, unless we have a dead one - the plant isn't getting any. Sarracenia should be grown in a nutrient poor soil. A mix of peat moss or sphagnum moss with sand or perlite is recommended. Some growers add up to 10% charcoal to remove impurities from the water as well.
Sarracenia likes a lot of water and should be kept damp at all times. It can even grow in shallow pools and does especially well in the fringes between pond and dry land. I would not plant them near a pond if you have frogs, as their is some debate as to whether they also eat small frogs. Also in common with other carnivorous plants - tap water is not recommended. Rain water is ideal. If you don't have enough rain water - move to Northern Ireland! Or use distilled water, water from a fish tank or pond, or at least water which has aged 24 hours. If you grow in a terrarium type container you can add water to a reservoir and allow it to evaporate and drop back down as fresh rain as well.
This plant can tolerate a fair range of sunlight. It can be kept happily as a houseplant in a sunny window, but I do take mine out to enjoy the sunshine on good days. It can grow in full sun or partial shade, but apparently the more sun the better for large healthy plants. Sarracenia may grow 8" -10" as a houseplant, but it may grow much larger outdoors.
My plant has not flowered yet, but looking online the flowers are beautiful. As this plant prefers to attract flies as both pollinators and food though, the scent of the flowers is not reputed to be overly nice. It can vary by sub species but has been described as smelling like cat pee or carrion. I don't think will be seeing any Sarracenia scented perfumes in the near future.
My children really do love their plants, and they find the carnivorous variety very interesting. It should be noted though, that children must be taught not to handle the carnivorous plants. To much touching can kill many of this plants and I don't consider half digested dead insect bodies especially sanitary for little hands. I believe these are very educational as we use them to discuss the effect of environment on the development of different plants. All of the carnivores have evolved a mechanism to allow them to flourish is nutrient poor bogs. They may be just a bit too weird for some, but if you like the odd and unusual this may be just the plant for you. This can also serve as very natural form of insect control in both home and garden, attracting and disposing of unwanted visitors. It is an easy plant to grow and a great conversation starter.