several yellow pitcher plants growing in a blue kiddie pool

Meet the Yellow Pitcher Plant

We’ve been getting our yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) all spruced up in the nursery lately, from the tiny baby seedlings on up to our large mature two quart containerized plants that we sell to you from our shop. We are trimming off the old pitchers, dividing some crowded plants, topping off the containers with fresh peat moss, and welcoming this year’s showy flying saucer-looking flowers.

Yellow pitcher plants are so much fun to grow. They have these funky flowers first thing in the spring that bloom as they come out of dormancy, before they grow and open up their tube-shaped leaves to start trapping and digesting this season’s insect prey.

Pitcher plants aren’t hard to grow if you follow a few simple rules. Give them full sunlight, grow them in sterile potting mix—we use straight peat moss—let them go dormant outside in the winter, and keep them constantly saturated with clean water, such as rainwater or distilled water or water that’s passed through the dehumidifier or air conditioner. They are very sensitive to salts and the other nutrients and chemical additives that are in tap water. We set ours in baby pools or other tubs and fill those with rainwater so they can drink constantly.

Sarracenia flava grows in bogs throughout the southeast part of North America, as far north as Virginia and on down to Florida. They seem to do well in cultivation here in PA though, producing several strikingly tall yellow pitchers per season, large cup and saucer-looking yellow flowers in early spring, and strappy leaves in the late fall to help them photosynthesize during wintertime. With luck, one may even be able to harvest some seeds!

close-up of the flower of a yellow pitcher plant, taken from below

Pitcher plants are dependent on very specific wet savannah or bog habitat. They require very pure water, growing in sandy peat moss in waterlogged clearings.  This makes them vulnerable to a number of pressures; from dumping near their dwindling habitats, fire suppression, habitat destruction, rapid climate change, and poaching for the novelty horticultural and florist trades. Sadly, many Sarracenia species will be close to extinct within our lifetimes. This is where we gardeners come in!

It’s important to know that you are not buying rare plants from people who gather them in the wild. At Bartram’s Garden, we start our pitcher plants from seeds here in our nursery. One of the positive stories we can retrieve from the Bartram legacy is that by observing how a species grows in nature, to truly learn it’s growing requirements and associations from careful study, one can imitate those conditions in the garden. Perhaps in cultivation some of these species can escape extinction.

Furthermore, it makes sense to learn about the places these plants come from, the people who work to keep their habitats clean and thriving, to carve out a space for their fragile lives on this ever changing planet, and to support their work if we are able. We received some of our Sarracenia flava seeds from Meadowview Biological Research Station in Virginia. Please check out their amazing research as well as their education and conservation work and learn more about the unique habitat of the beautiful yellow pitcher plants!

Mandy Katz, Bartram’s Garden Lead Gardener