Parrot Pitcher Plants

The parrot pitcher plant is well named. It also forms a rosette growth pattern, with pitchers radiating from the central rhizome. Although it is typically smaller and less conspicuous than the northern pitcher plant, we have grown some which have measured 15 to 18 inches diameter with individual pitchers 8 inches long.

This particular species is a sun-loving plant native to the bogs and savannas of the southland. It grows well enough in domesticity as a house plant, in terrariums, or in outdoor bogs during summer in north-

A close-up look into the mouth of the parrot pitcher plant.

ern states. But it does freeze out in winter and won't survive. At least, it hasn't yet in our attempts to acclimate it to New Jersey and Maine conditions.

When you look at this oddity close up, the aptness of its name becomes apparent. The hollow pitchers which are its leaves extend to a rounded hood with a bit of a crest down the center. At the tip of this hood, which curls back to face the center of the plant, is what passes for a beaklike point. Under it is a small mouth which is almost perfectly round.

Another feature that sets the parrot apart is the multitude of translucent spots on its hood. With adequate sun these spots become more pronounced and the reddish veins extend farther down the pitcher and into the wing portion of the leaf.

Lacking the spine-lined mouth of the purpureas, the parrot, Sarracenia psittacina Michaux, has evolved a somewhat different, yet equally effective, insect-confusing method of getting fed. The flared hood is up, the mouth toward the center of the plant. As insects are attracted into the tiny mouth by the aroma from the attractant glands, they begin to feed on the nectar of the plant. If they suspect something awry, the insects may attempt to flee. But which way is out? Not up, although there's light showing through those translucent spots. It may fly up, but merely hits its head and tumbles back into the pitcher.

How about the other three sides, left, right, and rear? The potential prey finds the same problem. Its apparent escape route is blocked. What look like openings are just those same translucent spots again. That leaves onlv one way to escape, providing the insect still has strength enough and the brain capacity to make the choice. Most likely many insects keep trying to fly up and out until they tire and drop back defeated.

The odds aren't much in the insect's favor. There's only one way out of six directions. Probably it becomes disoriented in the process and keeps banging its head against the same escape-proof inner wall of the hood. There's also the factor that more glands are placed lower in the pitcher to lure unwitting insects deeper into the narrower part of the pitcher. No wonder the parrot pitcher seems as well fed as its other relatives! You might say it stacks the odds aginst its victims and outwits them or just wears them down. Into the soup, that is.

The internal structure of this pitcher plant is basically similar to the others. Glands lower in the pitcher secrete the enzymes and fluids to digest the insects. It too grows from a central rhizome which can produce 4 to 15 pitchers depending how favorable the growing conditions are. This species is usually smaller than the purpureas. It fits better into ter-

rariums with other smaller types: the sundews, butterworts, and flytraps.

Culture is almost identical to that of purpureas. It prefers slightly less water around it, so the middle part of the terrarium is preferable. When planting them as individual specimens or as a group of its own kind, follow the directions for purpureas, fust remember to give each a bit more drainage in the pot or tray in which you plan to grow it.

Allow me an aside here, please, since an ingenious growing method used by one carnivorous cultivator may save you time and work. After he has planted his single or several specimens in one pot, he waters them well and places the pot on a tray of gravel. There is always about an inch of water in the trav. Over the potted plants he places one of those wide-mouth glass gallon jars. (I hope he isn't seen too often entering and leaving the bars where he obtains the former containers of olives, cherries, and onions.) He assured me that in his work, traveling extensively week after week, this method provides insurance that the plants will have adequate humidity while he is away. Judging from the condition of the plants, it seems his system has some merit.

Parrot pitchers bear attractive red to crimson flowers on tall stalks, 8 to 15 inches high, each spring. Expect but one per plant, although larger rhizomes may produce two flower stalks. The flowers resemble those borne by purpureas, but about half the size. Although the coloration we've seen may be caused by brighter southern sun, parrot flowers have always seemed a deeper red, sometimes close to a reddish brown. Occasionally petals remain greenish red, while sepals become darker hued. Seed pods follow.

If you succeed in flowering several varieties of sarracenia at the same time, you may earn a bonus. They do occasionally cross-pollinate. You may discover the seeds will develop into a natural hybrid plant. For fun, you can attempt to hybridize these plants yourself by hand. Details are in the chapter on experiments.

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