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Pitcher Plants of Northwest Florida

Pitcher Plants have some of the most beautiful blooms I've ever seen! But even the "fly-catcher" (carnivorous) part of the plant is beautiful!  In these pictures you can see the pitchers standing tall with their yellow, red, and white leaves that look like open mouths just waiting for an insect (hopefully a mosquito!) to slip and fall into it to be digested by the plant and provide the nutrients the plant needs that they can't get from the poor soil they grow in. 

The panhandle of Northwest Florida, where these were taken, has one of the highest concentrations of carnivorous plants in the world - so I've been told. Finding a good composition of these plants is a challenge, even in good light, but WOW is it ever difficult in the darkness of a moonless night! For me, however, it was worth all the hard work and blood donations to the hordes of mosquitoes who act like the gate keepers of the Pitcher Plant Bogs.

If I had not taken these photos myself, I wouldn’t think they actually existed - almost like a landscape from another planet!  They have an otherworldly beauty as if you were waking up and not quite sure of what is reality and what is a dream.  Very few people ever get to see the untouched beauty of a pitcher plant bog like this, so I’m inspired, yet conflicted, to show off these rare and natural wonders, while at the same time, preserving them.

 

 

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants can be found along Florida’s trails.   These carnivorous plants range as far south as Okeechobee County but are easiest to find in the westernmost counties of Florida.  Six Sarracenia species are found along Florida’s hiking trails, with their highest concentration in NW Florida.  Five species can be found in the Florida Panhandle: Yellow trumpet, Whitetop, Parrot, Gulf Purple, and Gulf Coast Redflower.

Pitcher plants are native perennials that have adapted to living in a habitat that is nitrogen poor, acidic and at least seasonally saturated. They have evolved with several adaptations to survive in their sometimes harsh habitats. They are carnivorous and trap insects in order to compensate for the nitrogen limiting soils where they live. The plants have modified hollow leaves that form tubes. The tubes are open at the top and often completely or partially covered by a specialized flap or hood, helping to reduce the amount of rain entering the tube. The brightly colored hoods and tubes help attract prey, and often have a strong odor as well. The tubes are slick on the inside, with downward facing hairs, resulting in curious insects sliding to the bottom of the leaf where a small pool of water traps them. As the insect decomposes, the resulting nitrogen becomes available to the plant.

The yellow trumpet-leaf pitcher plant is one of the largest species with a yellowish-green tube and hood streaked with dark maroon splotches. The flowers have a musty smell. In Florida, this species is found in the northwest region from Leon County, west to Escambia County. Often, multiple species of pitcher plants can be found growing in the same area.  Sarracenia are able to cross pollinate creating and endless variety of hybrids.

Protection of the pitcher plants and their habitats is very important due to increasing loss of their unique habitats. Baseline surveys and continuing monitoring can help detect changes in pitcher plant populations. Restoration efforts often include frequent prescribed burning in order to reduce surrounding hardwood species. Restoration of local hydrology may also help maintain and grow populations. Other threats include feral hogs and humans, as they both have negative impacts on pitcher plant populations. It is also important for the general public to be educated about these unique plants. Collecting pitcher plants in the wild is prohibited by law; however plants can be purchased from reputable retailers.

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