Growing the Sarracenia rubra species complex


Sarracenia alabamensis subsp. wherryi spring pitchers and flower.


Sarracenia alabamensis spring pitchers. These pitchers will flop and lay on the ground even in full sun.


Sarracenia alabamensis in the fall after most of the spring pitchers have died back and been removed. This plant is a long-lid selection.

S. jonesii
S. jonesii fall pitchers showing the typical long lid and throat bulge.

Sarracenia jonesii
Sarracenia jonesii flower with spring pitchers in the background.

The Sarracenia rubra species complex is currently considered to consist of at least three species and two subspecies: Sarracenia rubra, Sarracenia rubra subsp. gulfensis, Sarracenia alabamensis, Sarracenia alabamensis subsp. wherryi, and Sarracenia jonesii. There is another subspecies in need of a name. These may all be referred to as Sarracenia rubra subspecies by some authors.

In the wild, the plants are found in diverse habitats of the southeastern USA with each species or subspecies found in a different typical habitat and locality. The pitchers of the Sarracenia rubra subspecies vary in the size, amount of venation, and color of the pitchers. Spring pitchers may be rather floppy. Fall pitchers are more robust and pigmented. Summer pitchers can be intermediate. The flowers are deep red to maroon and may or may not have an intense rose-like scent. The flowers are relatively small when compared to other Sarracenia species, but also unlike the other species, it is common to get multiple flowers per growth point.

Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra is found in the grassy coastal plains from southeastern North Carolina to northeastern Georgia usually along stream and marsh margins. In cultivation, the plants tend to be small and weedy with pitchers usually 20 to 30 cm tall. They can reach 45 cm in the wild. They have a narrow mouth width of 1.5 to 2.3 cm. Even with full sun, the pitchers of this subspecies can be quite floppy in the spring.

Sarracenia rubra subsp. gulfensis grows in seepage bogs and along small streams in northwest Florida. It has very tall pitchers in the range of 40 to 60 cm, usually the upper end of that range. The pitcher mouth is usually 2.4 to 3.5 cm wide. This subspecies is very much like a very tall and more robust Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra although the spring pitchers are not floppy.

There is a population of Sarracenia rubra in need of proper classification as a distinct subspecies in the sand hill seepage bogs at the fall line in Taylor County, Georgia. The fall line is a transition zone characterized by a sharp drop in topography resulting in streams having falls. Many very rare plants are found in this habitat. In cultivation, the Sarracenia rubra plants from this location appear to be intermediate in form between Sarracenia jonesii and Sarracenia rubra subsp. gulfensis. They have the growth habit and size of Sarracenia jonesii without the distinctive taxonomic characters of that species. The plants are currently nicknamed "Ancestral" because they are upstream from Sarracenia rubra subsp. gulfensis and thus potentially an ancestor of that subspecies. Based on this reasoning, Don Schnell considers the central Georgia population as Sarracenia rubra subsp. gulfensis until someone officially publishes a taxonomic description of it.

Sarracenia alabamensis is found in boggy soils around springs in wooded or shrubby areas along the fall line in central Alabama. This species is listed as an endangered species. This species tends to have fine red venation and can have a copper blush in the upper part of the pitcher. The hood tends to be yellow and the yellow cast can extend down the tube. The insides of the pitcher can have intense red venation. The upper part of the pitchers may also have faint areoles (light windows) on the back. The pitchers of this species tend to be the most robust of the group. They are usually 18 to 49 cm tall with a mouth width up to 6 cm.

S. alabamensis subsp. wherryi is found in the coastal plain in southwestern Alabama. In character it is intermediate between Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra and Sarracenia alabamensis. It has has slightly more robust pitchers and fewer red veins than Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra and tends to pick up some of the yellow cast of Sarracenia alabamensis. The pitchers range 28 to 43 cm tall with a 3.4 to 5.3 cm wide mouth.

Sarracenia jonesii is found in mountain seepage bogs of North Carolina. It is listed as an endangered species. This species is found upstream of Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra and in many respects is a more robust form of that species. Its pitchers tend to be on the order of 40 to 60 cm tall with a mouth width of 3 to 4 cm. It is distinctive in having a very long hood and neck bulge below the pitcher lip. The upper part of the pitcher and hood can be coppery in some selections. The species also has all red and all green forms. Many of the rare form plants in cultivation are progeny of stolen plants.

In addition to the problem of stolen plants, it's a violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act to transport endangered species across state lines for sale and a violation of CITES to transport endangered species internationally without permits for any reason. You might consider these facts before purchasing or otherwise acquiring Sarracenia jonesii or Sarracenia alabamensis plants without proper documentation. The ICPS recommends you keep all information (sales receipts, letters, etc.) that document your acquisitions of these rare plants in case you are ever asked by authorities to prove your plants were obtained legally.

Adult plants of all Sarracenia rubra species group species enjoy full sun outdoors. They do best in peat/sand soil mixtures. Make sure you use a large enough pot as the plants tend not to like being transplanted—they don't die, they just take a year or two to get back to their usual selves. Like other Sarracenia, the species of the Sarracenia rubra complex require seasons in order to survive long term. Typical summer temperatures where they grow naturally are in the mid 30's C (90's F). Winter temperatures can be below freezing at times. However seedlings make excellent terrarium plants without winter dormancy for up to two years. The seedlings do tend to be very slow growing. Adult plants of this species are very dependent on light and temperature cues to determine when to grow and what type of leaves to form. The terrarium to outdoor transition can be difficult. It can take a confused plant a year to get into seasonal sync. I find the best time to do the transition to a natural light cycle is early winter.

For producing seeds and growing seedlings, you may use the general guidelines for growing Sarracenia from seed except remember that these species do best in peat mixes. The plants should always be sitting in pure water when they are growing. They should be top-watered regularly to maintain the oxygen levels for the roots and to keep salt levels down in the soil.

For more information please see:

About Carnivorous Plants: Evolution of the Ericales Carnivores

Growing Sarracenia

Growing Sarracenia from Seed

Making Sarracenia Hybrids

Display Sarracenia on your deck

Growing Carnivores in Canada

Dividing Sarracenia Step-by-Step

Sarracenia Rhizome Rot

Schnell, Donald (1982) A Photographic Primer of Variants of Sarracenia rubra Walt.. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 11(2):41-45 ( )

Mellichamp, T.L. Editor (1987) Descriptions of Sarracenia alabamensis ssp. alabamensis, S. oreophila, S. jonesii. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 16(2):31-36 ( )

Schnell, D.E. (2002) Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon.

McPherson, S., and Schnell, D. (2011) Sarraceniaceae of North America. Redfern Natural History Productions Ltd., Poole.

 

S rubra rubra
Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra in a greenhouse. Note the weedy nature of the plant.

 



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