Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants which trap food by means of a pitfall trap built into them through evolutionary design. They can be found in both of the Americas as well as Africa, Asia, and Australia, and usually grow in bogs, marshlands, and areas of waterlogged, acidic soil. Pitcher plants have developed a carnivorous habit to compensate for poor soil nutrition, but they are also capable of absorbing nutrients through their simple root systems. In addition to growing in the wild, pitcher plants are cultivated in many botanical gardens as a form of natural insect control, and can serve the same purpose in the home, as well as being decorative. In botanical gardens, pitcher plants are usually grown in warm, humid indoor environments.
The term “pitcher plant” is an umbrella name for plants in two families, Sarraceiniaceae and Nepenthaceae. In both instances, the leaves of the plants curl in on themselves to form tall, distinctive, “pitchers.” The pitchers are often streaked with red to attract insects, and are lined with fine hairs and grooves so that once insects fall in, they cannot escape. Water collects in the bottom of the pitcher, drowning unwitting insect visitors, and the plant secretes digestive enzymes to extract nutrients from the insects. In some cases, pitcher plants also live in a symbiotic relationship with insects in larval form, allowing the larvae to eat trapped insects and later consuming some of them.
The insect traps of a pitcher plant can be quite large, showy, and decorative. Some specific varietals are cultivated for use as houseplants, although large scale propagation of pitcher plants is not usually successful. Because pitcher plants grow in protected marshlands, biologists try to leave them in situ, as they form an important part of the marshland environment. The plants reproduce by distributing pollen from their dark red flowers, which grow along long stalks that push the flowers well up above the leaves.
Specialized carnivorous plant nurseries grow and sell pitcher plants to the general public, along with instructions for their care. Along with other meat eating plants, pitcher plants do not need meat to survive, as long as they are offered proper soil nutrition, and they work very well as unusual looking indoor decorative plants. Despite popular fiction, pitcher plants never grow large enough to eat humans, but they will consume insects, small frogs, and sometimes mice and birds as well, if the plant manages to lure them in.