Sarracenia pitcher plants are wonders at any time of the year, even when they’re in winter dormancy. The absolute best time to appreciate them, though, is in autumn. When the summer heat breaks, Sarracenia make up for lost time by growing the largest and most distinctive pitchers of the year. All species produce brilliantly-colored autumn pitchers, all the better to attract insect prey, but Sarracenia leucophylla goes for both color and the brilliant white fenestrae on the pitcher throats and lids. On the right night, with the right full moon, and they’re positively blinding.
And while we’re looking at pitcher structures, here’s a great opportunity to dispel a very common misconception. A regular occurrence at plant shows involves kids who look at Sarracenia, and the kids’ fathers relating “And when a bug enters the pitcher, the top closes down and keeps it from escaping.” They’re usually very defensive when I demonstrate that the lids never close once the pitchers open, up to and including one who yelled back “Well, I know of one that does close! I’ll bet you don’t know about that one, do you?” (Amazingly enough, he ran off when I asked for a species name.) This says a lot about the number of parents who’d rather be right than correct, but it also says a lot about the perception that Sarracenia pitcher lids close. Without understanding of how the pitchers actually work, it’s a reasonable presumption.
As the following photos show, immature pitchers start their growth with the lid in place, and the growth occurs laterally when the pitcher prepares to open. Spread to the side, breaking the seal, and the pitcher is ready for business. This one wasn’t quite ready just yet, but given about three or four more days, and a concurrent doubling of height and depth, and it has at least another month’s worth of insect-catching before impending winter cold causes the main plant to go dormant. Come spring, the cycle begins anew.