Tropical Asian and N Australian pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes belong to the family Nepenthaceae. The Australian flycatcher (Cephalotus follicularis) of SW Australia is the only species of the family Cephalotaceae. N and S American species, of which there are only about 17, belong to the family Sarraceniaceae. Most of the species of pitcher plants in N America grow in the eastern US. In Canada, there is only a single species of pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) found in boggy habitats from Newfoundland to northeastern BC and parts of the NWT.
This native plant has green pitchers with conspicuous bright red to purplish veins and a single nodding purple flower, globular in form. Insects attracted to the rim of the brightly coloured leaves lose their footing on the slippery waxy surface and slide down into the liquid-filled traps. Downward-pointed hairs prevent the insects from crawling out of the pitcher.
The insects drown in the liquid and decompose through the action of enzymes and micro-organisms living in the fluid. The plant absorbs the nutrients released by the breakdown of both the insect bodies and of the micro-organisms. Interestingly, a few insects such as a harmless MOSQUITO of the genus Wyeomyla and a FLY of the genus Sarcophaga, live part of their life within the digestive fluids of the pitcher.
See also CARNIVOROUS PLANTS.
Author ERICH HABER
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Flora of North America
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