In many respects the Pitcher-plant is one of the most interesting and curiosity-exciting of our wild flowers. Perhaps you have heard that some plants "eat" insects, and here you are face to face with one of them. First of all, let us substitute the word absorb for the word eat, and we will better understand our subject, which neither chews nor swallows. Farmers and gardeners, we know, replenish the soil with fertilizer containing a large portion of animal matter, such as ground bone and fish, which supplies nitrogen, a necessary element for leaf and stalk formation, and which is absorbed through the activity of plant roots. The leaves of the Pitcher-plant have developed some of the power of the roots by absorbing the nitrogeneous matter from decomposing insects, which they ingeniously attract and capture for this purpose. Broadly speaking, that is all there is to it, and the construction of the leaves, and their method of entrapping the insects is more interesting to learn. The leaves are elongate and tubular, tapering from the root and bulging widely toward the centre, forming a sort of pitcher-shaped growth, with the blunt, open end flared to one side into a short, pointed, and flapped hood. They curve gracefully outward and upward, and the inner or concaved side, which faces the flower stalk, has a very broad wing or keel. They are yellowish green in colour, conspicuously lined and veined with purple, and grow from four to twelve inches long. The texture is stout and leathery, and the outer and inner surfaces are smooth. The pitchers are generally half-filled with water, and the inner surface of the hood is thickly covered with fine, hairy bristles which point downward toward the opening. Just inside the aperture is secreted a sweet, sticky substance, which is supposed to attract insects to it. Once inside the pitcher, the insect becomes a captive, and in trying to escape, it encounters the labyrinth of reflexed hairs, falls exhausted into the water, and is finally drowned. There is the trap, and most any time during the summer insects may be observed floating on the surface of the water within the pitchers. These pitchers radiate in the form of a circle about the central flower stalk and spring direct from the roots. The peculiar construction of these cornucopia-shaped leaves actually demonstrate the fabulous "horn of plenty" which they faithfully imitate, by yielding an abundance of insect food and water which some of the birds, and probably also harmless snakes and frogs take advantage of. The large, solitary flower nods coquettishly from a long, stout, smooth, light green stalk rising from one to two feet high. Its five long, ovate, purple-red petals are narrowed in the centre like a fiddle, and their rounded ends are folded in over the top of the singular five-rayed, yellowish style, which is astonishingly like an umbrella, spreading itself over the large seed case, with its five ribs or rays terminating in hooked stigmas. Numerous stamens surround the pistil. The calyx has five spreading sepals which are thick and tough. They are purplish red, lined with light green, and are often stained with darker purple. They are supported by three or four bracts. In the fall, after the seed case has disappeared, the long, faded flower stalks stand out conspicuously, and display their withered sepals. On the 28th of September, 1851,Thoreau wrote in his journal: "Though the moss is comparatively dry, I cannot walk without upsetting the numerous pitchers, which are now full of water, and so wetting my feet. I once sat accidentally down on such a bed of pitcher plants, and I found an uncommonly wet seat where I expected a dry one." The plant exhibits many variations of colour, from deep purple to pink, and from dark green to greenish yellow; and, as Alice Lounsberry says: "from a distance they appear like the mystic blending of colours in a Persian rug." The Huntsman's Cup is said to have been so named because hunters used them to drink from, but it seems more likely that it applies to its resemblance to the old-fashioned powder horn of Davy Crockett's time. The Pitcher-plant is found in peat-bogs and in wet, springy, mossy places, often along railroad tracks, during May and June. The pitchers are often found during the late fall and winter, with the water in them, frozen solid. They range from Labrador to the Canadian Rockies, and south to Minnesota, Kentucky, and Florida.
PITCHER-PLANT. Sarracenia purpurea.
Matured flowers photographed in February.