Pitcher Plant, Green

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Pitcher plant, green

Sarracenia oreophila

division: Magnoliophyta

class: Magnoliopsida

order: Dilleniales

family: Sarraceniaceae

status: Critically endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: USA (Alabama and Georgia)

Description and biology

The green pitcher plant is classified as a perennial (plant that lives, grows, flowers, and produces seeds for three or more consecutive years). It is insectivorous (pronounced in-sec-TIV-res), meaning it depends on insects for food.

The plant's green or yellow-green leaves grow to a height of 8 to 29.5 inches (20 to 75 centimeters). Wider at the top than at the bottom, the leaves resemble pitchers or horn- shaped enclosures. The pitcher-shaped leaves usually contain a sweet-smelling liquid. Insects are drawn to the liquid or to the plant's bright coloration. Once the insect enters the leaf, it is prevented from escaping by bristles on the inside of the leaf surface. Eventually, the insect drowns in the liquid. It is then broken down by enzymes (chemical compounds composed of proteins) and digested by the plant.

The leaves and flower buds appear in early April. The leaves mature and yellow flowers bloom during late April and

May. The pitcher-shaped leaves wither by late summer and are replaced by flat leaves that remain until the following spring.

Habitat and current distribution

The green pitcher plant is found in only a few areas in Alabama and Georgia. The largest populations occupy the Cumberland Plateau region in Alabama. Botanists (people specializing in the study of plants) estimate that about 26 green pitcher plant populations exist in the wild. The size of these populations varies from a single plant to more than 1,000 plants.

Green pitcher plants require very acidic soil in which to grow. They are found in a variety of habitats (mainly wetland areas). These include bogs (areas of wet spongy ground composed of decaying plant matter), woodland sites that have poor drainage in winter, and sloping stream banks.

History and conservation measures

The green pitcher plant was never common, but it was found over a wider range than it is now. At one time, its range extended into Tennessee.

The decline of this plant is mainly due to the draining of its wetland habitat. The green pitcher plant is further threatened by herbicide and fertilizer runoff from farms in its range. Collectors who prize the unusual-looking plant have also reduced its numbers in the wild.

The survival of the green pitcher plant can be assured only if wetlands that form the base of its habitat are preserved.