North American Pitcher plants (Sarracenia) are a group of truly unique-looking plants with dramatic red-purple ‘pitchers’ designed for catching insect prey.
Pitcher plant care is quite different to growing common houseplants like spider plants or Swiss cheese plants. In fact, everything from watering, soil choice and fertilizing is different. This is something I had to learn fast when I bought one on a whim!
But it can be easy to learn the little quirks that they prefer. They need an environment that imitates their natural bog habitat. If you’re able to provide the right circumstances and attention, this plant can be a wonderful addition to a houseplant collection.
There are numerous different species in this group of carnivorous plants, They differ in size and color, each having their own attractive qualities. Sarracenia purpurea is a small variety that is perfect for use as a houseplant. It’s also known as ‘turtle socks’, the purple pitcher plant or the side-saddle plant.
If you’re looking for a houseplant that’s a real conversation-starter and a striking aesthetic point in your home, pitcher plants are a wonderful option.
Let’s get started with everything you need to know about North American pitcher plant care:
Like most carnivorous plants, North American pitcher plants prefer full sunlight. Depending on the climate, they may prefer full sun or part shade. If they’re in a particularly hot environment, some shade may be beneficial to them – but look for floppy leaves or pitchers, which point to a need for more sunlight, and adjust accordingly.
They’ll prefer a south-facing window, and make sure they’re close to the window, preferably within a metre, or get them a grow light if you can’t provide this.
Pitcher plants want to be in an environment that reflects their natural habitat so 23-77oF (5-25oC) is a suitable range. They love humidity, which they need to grow and retain their pitchers. Mist them frequently if your home isn’t humid enough.
Pitchers grow in spring and summer and will die back to dormancy in late fall. In winter, they need to be cold to allow this dormancy. Leave them in a room that’s unheated, like the garage, or put them outside if it’s cold enough through winter. Sarracenia purpurea is actually the most cold-hardy of the Sarracenia family, so should overwinter fine in cold climates.
Water is one of the most important elements to pitcher plant care. You need to give them lots of it. They grow naturally in boggy areas, so you’re looking to replicate that environment. Use a pot with holes and stand it in a tray of water about 1-inch deep.
It’s important to use water that is low in minerals, so distilled or rainwater are best. Do not use tap water as this could kill your plant.
Humidity is key for these plants to retain their traps or form new traps, so if the traps are crisping up and detaching, you’re probably not giving it enough water.
Purple pitcher plants are usually found in a bog environment – they like their soil to be damp at all times, so you need to make sure the soil mix you use accommodates this.
The natural environment of a pitcher plant has low-nutrient soil, the plant gets most of its nutrients from its prey or photosynthesis. A good Sarracenia mixture is sphagnum peat moss with perlite in a 2:1 ratio. Alternatively you can buy a ready made soil mix from a carnivorous plants supplier.
Over winter, Sarracenia purpurea will turn brown and die back. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to do this! You can trim off any dead growth before the spring when it will re-enter its growing phase and need to be moved from its cold winter location back to a warm, sunny and humid spot.
The end of the dormancy period is also a good chance to repot the plant if you feel it needs it. You can even divide the rhizomes of the plant at this point in the year if you’d like to propagate the plant using this method.
You can propagate purple pitcher plants by dividing rhizomes as mentioned above, but also from cuttings, and this is the easiest way to grow a new plant.
You should take a cutting from a mature plant with an actively growing stem. Choose one with a circle of leaves at the base of the stem, and take a clean cutting just below a leaf with a growth bud.
You can then place the cutting’s base and first growth node in water, leave it in a sunny area, freshening the water regularly, and within two weeks the stem should begin to produce roots.
Pests & problems
Aphids, thrips and mealybugs are all problems for pitcher plants. Many people think that carnivorous plants can protect themselves against bugs, but the pitcher plant only kills insects if they fall into the well of water within its pitchers – so bugs on any other part of it are still a problem. You can use neem oil as usual to treat these pests.
Another problem for pitcher plants can be fungal infections. If you notice white or black sooty mold on any part of the plant, this may be the issue. A sulfur-based fungicide can be used to treat this, just ensure you follow the instructions and apply cautiously.
They may look menacing, but the Sarracenia family is actually not poisonous. Both humans and pets should be unaffected if they consume a small amount of the pitcher plant, and you shouldn’t have any irritation from handling it. In fact, in Malaysia, pitcher plants are consumed as parts of some delicacies.
In some cases, a cat may take a reaction to eating small parts of a pitcher plant, and may vomit for a short period of time. If this lasts a long time, more likely if your cat has eaten a lot of the plant, or is accompanied by diarrhea, a rash or lethargy, take your cat to the vet along with a sample piece of the pitcher plant.
Common questions about North American Pitcher Plant care
Should I fertilize my North American Pitcher Plant?
Do not fertilize this plant with traditional fertilizer. When grown as a houseplant, leaving it on a windowsill that has an opened window should provide natural insect prey.
What if there are no insects indoors for my pitcher plant?
If there are no natural insect prey, you could feed your plant with dried insects such as mealworms or dried crickets. There are also dried food pellets available from specialist carnivorous plant suppliers.