Mountain Sweet Pitcher-plant
Mountain Sweet Pitcher-plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii
|Listed||September 30, 1988|
|Family||Sarraceniaceae (Pitcher Plant)|
|Description||Insectivorous, perennial herb with erect, dull waxy-green leaves and maroon flowers.|
|Habitat||Mountain bogs and stream banks.|
|Threats||Drainage of wetlands, natural plant succession, collectors.|
|Range||North Carolina, South Carolina|
The mountain sweet pitcher-plant, Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii, is a rhizomatous perennial herb, growing from 8-19 in (21-73 cm) high. The plant produces fragrant and showy, maroon flowers which have recurved sepals and are borne singly on an erect flower stalk (scape). Mountain sweet pitcher-plant blooms from April to June and develops fruits in August. Plants reproduce by seed or by fragmentation of the rhizome.
Numerous erect leaves, of a dull waxy-green color, grow in clusters. The leaves are hollow and trumpet shaped, forming a tubular shape surmounted by a heart-shaped hood, called a "pitcher." Pitchers are covered by a net of maroon-colored veins and are hairy within, often partially filled with liquid and decayed insect parts.
Insects are attracted by a nectar secreted by glands near the mouth of the pitcher, or by the plant's coloring. When an insect crawls into the pitcher, it becomes trapped and is eventually digested by plant enzymes. The insectivorous nature of the plant may allow it to compete in nutrient-poor habitats.
Mountain sweet pitcher-plant grows in damp, peatlike soils of mountain bogs and stream banks. It requires constant moisture and partial shade.
This species is endemic to the Blue Ridge Divide which runs through southwestern North Carolina and northwestern South Carolina. Sixteen of 26 documented locations have been extirpated, all within the current range of the species.
Ten small populations of the mountain sweet pitcher-plant—often covering areas of less than 50 sq ft (4.6 sq m)—survive in Henderson and Transylvania Counties, North Carolina, and in Greenville County, South Carolina. There are no current population estimates.
Perhaps the best way to picture the dangers faced by this plant is to understand how previous populations were lost. Of the 16 populations of this plant that have been extirpated, at least six were eliminated by drainage of their habitat, four were flooded by impoundments, three were destroyed by construction of golf courses, two were eliminated by industrial development, and one was destroyed when its habitat was converted to agricultural use. Eight of the ten remaining populations are currently threatened by habitat alteration.
Surviving sites are threatened by developing recreational use of the mountains, by further alteration of stream flows and drainage patterns, by natural plant succession, and by collectors. Members of the pitcher plant family are attractive to the horticultural trade, and collectors have uprooted plants and taken the seed crop from some populations. This is illegal under state laws, but enforcement is difficult.
Conservation and Recovery
The boggy habitat of the pitcher-plant is maintained by periodic fires that keep down the surrounding woody growth. Encroaching woodlands bring a drier, shadier habitat which is unsuitable for the species. In the absence of fire, tracts of habitat need to be managed by cutting to forestall succession and to encourage the growth of meadow and bog species.
Mountain sweet pitcher-plant is listed as endangered by the state of North Carolina; this does not, however, prevent alteration of habitat. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over wet-land habitats under the Federal Water and Pollution Control Act, but habitat disturbance that does not involve dumping or dredging is not covered under the statutes. Typically, habitats are drained as a result of the construction—at a distance from population sites—of dams and diversion structures.
The species is recognized as endangered in South Carolina but is accorded no legal protection. One publicly owned site is administered by the state Wildlife and Marine Resources Department. A second public site, overseen by the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, is vulnerable to expanded recreational use of the park lands.
Eight populations occur on private lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and concerned conservation groups have negotiated with private landowners seeking preservation agreements. Success on this front has been mixed.
The goal for the recovery of this species is for at least four populations within each occupied drainage to be self-sustaining or permanently protected. Landowners have been contacted regarding the protection of the species on their lands. As of the early 1990s, three of the South Carolina populations had been acquired and were being protected. Also, research is underway to determine management plans, and monitoring and demographic studies are being conducted.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
Folkerts, G. 1977. "Endangered and Threatened Carnivorous Plants of North America." In Extinction Forever: The Status of Threatened and Endangered Plants of the Americas, edited by G. T. Prace and T. S. Elias. New York Botanical Garden, New York.
Radford, A., H. Ahles, and C. Bell. 1964. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Schnell, D. 1978. "Infraspecific Variation in Sarracenia rubra Walter: Some Observations." Castanea 42: 149-170.