Tag Archives: Sarracenia alata

my carnivores in december

December carnivore trimmings

As winter approaches many of the plants in the bog garden are starting to retreat into dormancy. Sunday I filled part of a bucket with the trimmings from the bog and two trays of potted carnivorous plants.

I have mostly American pitcher plants, sarracenia, and I’ve been starting to learn the rhythms of the different species and hybrids. Many put out their main flush of growth in the spring and look progressively scrappier and scrappier as spring turns into summer, and summer into fall. Many of these are now tidied up in the bottom of this bucket.

Sarracenia leucophylla Titan in December

Sarracenia leucophylla Tarnok in December

Others sync up with hurricane season, presenting their most spectacular pitchers in late summer and fall when heavy rains can be expected in the American Southeast. The white-topped pitcher, Sarracenia leucophylla, is the most charismatic of these. At least two clones have been tissue-cultured and are commonly available, ‘Tarnok’ (to the left) and ‘Titan’ (to the right). In spring, a mature Tarnok will produce big red double pompoms of sterile flowers that will persist long into the year. The flowers being sterile, this could be considered a cultigen, a plant incapable of reproducing itself except by seducing members of the human species to keep it alive via division or cloning. ‘Titan’ is supposed to have the unusual ability to produce pitchers over three feet tall, though in my too-dry, less than ideal conditions, it’s not as good a grower and clumper as Tarnok.

Sarracenia Judith Hindle in December2

‘Judith Hindle’ is another tissue-cultured, commonly available plant. I called this Sarracenia Trader Joe’s for a year because that’s where I bought this no-label plant. But I’ve decided it’s Judith Hindle because there was a whole big display of plants that looked just like this one, and I’m fairly certain that it’s the only hybrid that’s been tissue-cultured that looks and behaves like this. Like its leucophylla grandparent, it gives up its best pitchers in the fall.

Sarracenia alata Red Lid in December

Another plant that’s still got a few nice pitchers this late in the year is this red-lidded versions of the species S. alata.

Sarracenia Super Green Giant in December

And this hybrid, ‘Super Green Giant,’ seems to be doing well late in the season, though I’ve only had it since August and can’t vouch for what it’ll look like the rest of the year. Also, it’s lived a coddled life in a pot standing in water, not one loosed in the outdoor bog with these other plants.

Drosera capensis Red Form in December

Not everything is pitcher plants. This is the very easy-to-grow (some would say “weedy”) Drosera capensis, red form, a sundew from wet spots in South Africa. If you let it flower it will set seed. And if it sets seed, it can spread throughout your collection. I’m trying to figure out which of the bog plants can get by with less than boggy conditions. So far this is one of them.

Potted carnivores in December

In addition to the bog garden, I have two tubs of water with other plants. A very few are still looking presentable this late in the year. Three hybrids in this tub combine to make a lively red-and-green display: ‘Mardi Gras,’ ‘W.C.’ and a primary hybrid, x mitchelliana, made by Jerry Addington of Courting Frogs Nursery and retailed by Karen Oudean of Oudean’s Willow Creek Nursery. All of these hybrids are one half or at least one quarter leucophylla, so they retain some of its abilities to look nice in the fall. They also involve other species that tend to have a stronger year-round presence instead of retreating to a rhizome for the winter.

Tub of bog plants after the rain

These trays of plants have moved from the unheated greenhouse, hopefully to trigger the dormancy that most of these plants needs to thrive. Another hope is that they’ll get a taste of rain and not yet another drenching of reverse-osmosis water. After many weeks with nothing, they finally got treated to our first big storm of the season. When I came home last night the trays had almost three inches of water in them. Real water. Free water from the sky. At last!

feed your guests before you eat them


Yesterday saw some of my pitcher plants opening up their springtime blooms. These are carnivorous plants that primarily dine on insects that slide into leaves which have evolved into elegant long tubes that contain a digestive juice at the bottom. (See the young Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ pitchers in the picture to the left.)


Almost all the species have evolved so that they flower, offering nectar to their guests, before they develop their mature pitchers–effectively helping assure their reproduction by not dining on their pollinators. These soft yellow flowers appear on Sarracenia alata, the pale or yellow trumpet.


Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Giant’ looks like it’s only a couple days behind in its flowering schedule. This bud is about to open to a dark red little mop of petals.


In the “eat-or-be-eaten” world of carnivorous plants, it’s interesting to see that it’s not the plants that always have the upper hand in their relationship with insects. Here the top of an emerging pitcher has been munched on by some insect.

This was my first pitcher plant, purchased in the flower aisle of the local Trader Joe’s store. (It must have been a special purchase because I’ve never seen them there again…) Like many plants sold for decoration, it came with no label. I want to know the name of everything, so this bothers me to no end. (It could be the common decorative hybrid Sarracenia Judith Hindle, or it might not…)


I’m still fairly new to pitcher plants, so I can’t offer much advice on growing them other than to keep them wet, and to use good-quality water. These are about as far from drought-tolerant plants as you’ll ever encounter. And to that I might add that when given an option to select between potting them in half-peat/half-sand or half-peat/half-perlite, choose the sand mixture, at least if you’re doing a little bog planting. Otherwise the perlite just floats to the top, looking like little styrofoam peanuts that have floated to the surface of a polluted lake. Not pretty. If I were ever to re-do the bog, that would be the first thing I’d do differently.


I’m back from my trip, and I’ll post some of the trip pictures here soon.

Two weeks away during prime growing season can guarantee that you’ll come back to surprises. I knew tomatoes grew quickly, but, dang, what was I thinking when I put that one indeterminate monster in the flower bed? I don’t usually prune my tomato plants, but that’s what I was doing within fifteen minutes of pulling up in the driveway. A few baby tomatoes of the first crop went with the stems that went into the greens recycle bin, but there will be more where those came from.

Sarracenia alata pitcherThe nicest surprise to come back to was probably the opening of the first pitcher on the Sarracenia alata in the new bog garden. I’d been watching the new leaves making their way up from the rhizomes for the last couple of months, and this first pitcher was perfect: elegant, streamlined, and gently striped.

I usually don’t buy piles of souvenirs on my trips. This time I came home with three. One was a little soap in the shape of a cute grizzly bear. (The soap smelled like cheap cologne.) Another was a wild huckleberry-filled chocolate bar for John. (Even though he likes chocolate as much as I do, he agreed that the souvenir bar tasted like bad Hershey’s with a little bit of berry jam spread on it. At least the wrapper was festive.)

And the last souvenir I brought home was for the carnivorous plants in the bog garden. Common wisdom is that carnivores like pure water, with total dissolved solids less than 50 parts per million. The local San Diego water bottoms out at around 180ppm tds and goes up from there, so it’s not ideal–and actually lethal over the long term–for carnivores. At the Norris Campground in Yellowstone on my way out I emptied my 5-gallon emergency water container which I’d filled with disgusting San Diego tap water at the start of the trip. Then I went to the spigot and filled it with five fresh gallons of pure mountain snowmelt.

Cape sundewNot long after I got home I took the mountain water to the bog plants and opened the spigot on the jug and let it dribble into the assorted pitcher plants and sundews. After sniffing the disgusting souvenir soap and sampling the unfortunate chocolate, I know the bog plants got the best souvenir of all from my trip. Nothing is too good for some of my current favorite plants…

A happy Cape sundew (Drosera capensis, broad leaf form) in the bog garden.