Project Description

Parrot Pitcher Plant

Sarracenia psittacina, also known as the parrot pitcher plant, is one of the eight species of that genus that are native to the wet, boggy areas of North America (Cheek, 1988; Schnell, 1976; Thomas, 2002). These habitats are relatively acidic and nutrient deficient and as a result these plants receive the majority of their required nutrients (such as nitrogen) from prey/insects captured rather than from their root systems (Thomas, 2002; Karagatzides, Butler and Ellison, 2009). The most common insects that are attracted to this carnivorous perennial herb are beetles, millipedes and ants (Cheek, 1988). In order to attract multiple types of insects, aromatic nectar is produced by glands on the flowers, hoods, and uppermost section of the pitchers(Cheek, 1988; Thomas, 2002). Once prey is drawn and enters the hood of the parrot pitcher plant, the plant uses basic pitfall trapping techniques so it is almost impossible for prey to get out (Slack, 2000).

Inside the hood there are stiff, downward pointing hairs that direct the movement of the prey deeper into the pitcher toward the next zone of the leaf (Slack, 2000; Thomas, 2002). The next zone has a slippery, waxy surface and most of the time insects will lose grip and fall directly to the bottom of the pitcher into the liquid of digestive enzymes and bacteria (Thomas, 2002). Once in this liquid, the digestive enzymes and bacteria dissolve the prey to allow absorption of their nutrients (Thomas, 2002).

The parrot pitcher plant is unique in the Sarracenia family because this species displays a special type of visual lure called fenestration (Thomas, 2002). Fenestration is similar to windows in that they are translucent areas on the upper section of the hood that allow light to enter the pitcher (Thomas, 2002). When prey enters the hood they will try to escape and may interpret the fenestration as openings. This causes disorientation of the prey leading them towards the bottom of the pitcher into the digestive enzymes and bacteria (Thomas, 2002).

The inflated pitcher-hoods vary in colour from red to green, but the veins present are usually maroon or red (Slack, 2000).  Venation can vary between plants in regards to netting over the outer pitcher surface and branch dynamics (Slack, 2000). A red flower emerges from the cluster of pitcher, on a tall stem (Slack, 2000; Cheek, 1988). The flower has a unique shape that produces honey to attract bumblebees for pollination  to avoid self-pollination (Cheek, 1988). The pitchers and flowers are usually borne between April and May, and if the plant becomes pollinated the flower will release seeds between August and September (Cheek, 1988). The seeds produced are reddish-brown and are approximately 0.5 mm long (Thomas, 2002).

Works Cited

Cheek, M. (1988). SARRACENIA PSITTACINA: Sarraceniaceae. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 5(2), 60-65.

Karagatzides JD, Butler JL, Ellison AM (2009) The pitcher plant Sarracenia purpureacan directly acquire organic nitrogen and short-circuit the inorganic nitrogen cycle. PLoS ONE 4: 1–9.

Schnell, D.E. (1976). Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada. North Carolina.

Slack, A. (2000). Carnivorous plants. MIT Press.

Thomas, D. D. (2002). Propagation Protocol for North American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia L.). Native Plants Journal, 3(1), 50-53.