How to Plant, Grow, and Care for American Pitcher Plants

Are you looking to add a unique carnivorous plant to your garden? Consider an American pitcher plant! Join plant enthusiast Briana Yablonski as she shares how to grow and care for these magnificent plants.

Close-up of American Pitcher Plants growing in the garden. These carnivorous plants are characterized by trumpet-shaped modified leaves that form intricate pitchers. The pitchers have vibrant hues ranging from green to red, adorned with intricate veining and crimson spots.


The first time I saw an American pitcher plant growing in a North Carolina garden, I ran over to get a closer look. I knew Venus fly traps were native to moist areas in the Carolinas, but a front-yard bog filled with elongated plant pitchers was an impressive sight. Up close, I marveled at the beautiful shades of green, red, and pink and wondered how hard it was to grow these plants at home. 

Did I need to fill a tub with water and soil? Or could I plant them directly in the ground? And would they survive below-freezing temperatures, or would I need to protect them from the winter cold?

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about planting, growing, and caring for these cool carnivorous plants. Keep reading to learn more about these unique plants, including how to add them to your garden.


Close-up of American Pitcher plants in the garden. These plants produce trumpet-shaped modified leaves of bright green with intricate pink and crimson veining and spots. The rim of the pitcher features a hood-like structure, called the lid.
Latin name Sarracenia spp.
Plant Type Perennial
Family Sarraceniaceae
Genus Sarracenia
Native Area Eastern United States
Exposure Full Sun or Part Shade
Height 4-24 inches
Watering Requirements Requires constantly moist or wet soil
Pests & Diseases Aphids, spider mites, exyra moths, powdery mildew
Maintenance Medium maintenance
Soil Type Acidic and nutrient-poor
Hardiness Zone Varies by species; six to nine

What Are American Pitcher Plants?

American Pitcher Plants growing in a botanical garden. The plant's modified leaves form elegant, trumpet-shaped pitchers that are richly colored, ranging from vibrant greens to deep reds. The pitchers display intricate patterns, such as veins and spots, enhancing their visual appeal.
Part of the Sarracenia genus, these plants can vary and can cross-breed.

People use the term pitcher to refer to handfuls of plants across multiple genera. And that means it can be difficult to know which plant people are referring to! Therefore, I like to refer to the trumpet-shaped plants native to the US as American pitcher plants. 

These plants consist of eight different carnivorous plants in the Sarracenia genus. The genus name refers to Canadian physician and botanist Michel Sarrazin. Since all of these species can cross-breed with each other, you can also find numerous Sarracenia hybrids.

Take note that Sarracenia isn’t the only genus that contains plants with pitcher-shaped parts. The large Nepenthes genus contains plants with hanging pitchers and large low-growing pitchers, and the Heliamphora genus includes plants called sun pitchers.


A close-up view of the Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp.) reveals a mesmerizing and intricate structure. The pitcher, a modified leaf, exhibits a vivid palette of colors ranging from greens and yellows to deep reds and purples. The surface of the pitcher is adorned with striking patterns, resembling intricate veins, spots, or speckles.
Sarracenia plants feature tall, colorful traps enticing insects with nectar and scents.

The most noteworthy characteristic of Sarracenia pitcher plants is their tall, trumpet-shaped pitfall trap. These modified leaves fill with water and trap insects, which the plants break down to use for nutrients. But the insects don’t just happen upon the plant. No, the pitcher entices them with sweet nectar, alluring scents, and bright colors. In fact, they can target specific prey by releasing various scents.

These perennial plants grow from rhizomes that grow woody over time. Their pitchers grow 4-24 inches tall and are some variation of pink, green, white, and yellow. The exact pitcher appearance varies between species.

These plants also produce attractive flowers that resemble upside-down umbrellas. The flowers emerge on tall stems in the early spring before new pitchers form. Since the flowers are above the pitchers, pollinators accessing the flowers stay out of harm’s way.

Most of the plants are cold-sensitive and only tolerate light frosts. However, they require cold temperatures to enter dormancy. During this time, growth stalls, and their existing pitchers die back.

Native Area

Close-up of Pitcher Plants growing among ferns in a natural environment. Pitcher Plant produces vertical, elongated, modified pitcher-shaped leaves. They have a bright green color adorned with crimson veins on top. Ferns exhibit a unique and graceful appearance characterized by their feathery, intricate fronds. These fronds emerge from a central stem, called a stipe, and are divided into smaller leaflets or pinnae.
Sarracenia genus, native to North America, faces threats due to habitat destruction and development.

All members of the Sarracenia genus are native to North America. Most plants originate in the Southeast in acidic, boggy areas near the coast, but a few call the Gulf Coast home. Only the purple pitcher (Sarracenia purpurea) is native to colder regions—you can find this plant across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.

Since some of these plants are native to unique and rare environments, they’ve become threatened by habitat destruction and development. 


The easiest way to grow them is from seedlings available in plant nurseries and online. However, you can also grow the plants from seed. Regardless of your choice, growing your indoor and outdoor plants in a container to allow for bottom watering is best.


A large number of young Pitcher Plant seedlings in black plastic pots in a greenhouse. The plant forms a rosette of curved, elongated, modified leaves that form pitchers at the top. These leaves come in vibrant shades of green, purple and pink with striking veins of deep pink and purple.
Start with an established, ethically-grown seedling and transplant it into a larger container with drainage.

Transplanting is the easiest way to grow pitcher plants, and it allows you to start with an established plant rather than a tiny seedling. If you purchase a plant, complete due diligence to ensure it was grown in captivity rather than harvested from the wild. Wild populations have experienced a significant decline, so don’t support people who poach these plans for profit.

Once you’ve obtained your ethically-grown plant, select a container with drainage holes. The pot should be at least a few inches larger than the plant’s rhizome system. Fill the container with an appropriate soil mix, add your plant, and cover the rhizome with soil.

Set the container into a larger tub or container and add an inch of water to the outer container. As the soil soaks up the water, add more water to maintain an inch of water in the container.

Growing from Seed

Close-up of a young parrot pitcher plant, Sarracenia psittacina. These pitchers, resembling the head of a parrot, are characterized by an upright, elongated structure that ends in a flared, hood-like lid. The pitchers exhibit a mix of green and maroon hues.
To grow from seed: cold stratify, plant in a well-draining mix, and keep moist.

You can grow them from seed if you’re up for an interesting task. Growing these plants from seed isn’t difficult, but it does require a healthy dose of patience.

Follow these steps for success:

  1. Place the seeds in a plastic bag filled with damp peat moss and set them in the refrigerator for four weeks. This step serves as cold stratification.
  2. Fill a container with a well-draining mix of sphagnum peat moss, sand, and perlite.
  3. Sprinkle the seeds in the container and cover with a quarter inch of material.
  4. Cover the seeds with a humidity dome or plastic bag and set them somewhere between 70-80°F.
  5. Keep the soil moist; the seed should germinate in two to four weeks.
  6. Once the seeds germinate, remove the humidity dome and place them in a location with Full Sun.
  7. If the seedlings outgrow their current pots, transplant them into larger containers.

How to Grow

If you place them in the right environment, trumpet pitcher plants are moderately easy to grow. Spend some time setting up a proper space for them to live, and you won’t have to go through extreme measures to care for them.


Close-up of Pitcher plant in sunlight in the garden on a blurred green background. Pitcher plant has elongated, upright, modified, ribbed leaves that are bright green in color. These leaves form trumpet-shaped pitchers with rich purple-burgundy veins.
Full sun or at least eight hours of daily light yields vibrant colors.

Full sun will keep these plants happiest, but they can also survive in part sun. Plants receiving at least eight hours of daily light will grow robust pitchers and dazzle onlookers with bright colors. On the other hand, plants grown in part-sun often experience faded colors and a general lack of pizzazz.

If you’re growing your plant outdoors, choose a location with full sun. Keep indoor plants near south-facing windows or in bright sunrooms. Grow lights also work if you’re dealing with a dark home.


Close-up of pitcher plant's calyx, adorned with water droplets. The calyx, in the form of a pitcher-shaped structure, exhibits a lush and vibrant green exterior, with intricate patterns of purple vivid colors.
Use rainwater or distilled water and maintain soil moisture by placing pots in water-filled dishes.

One of the interesting aspects of these plants is their sensitivities to minerals. Since they naturally grow in poor soils and obtain nutrients from captured prey, they don’t take many nutrients out of the soil. They don’t require fertilizer and are also sensitive to minerals found in tap water, like calcium and magnesium, and added chlorine.

Avoid tap water or filtered water; opt for rainwater or distilled water instead. This will prevent mineral buildups and keep your plants stress-free.

As for how much to water these plants, remember they’re native to wet areas like bogs and wetlands. Rather than top-watering your plant on a set schedule, keep the plants’ pots sitting in a dish that contains an inch of water. The soil will slowly take up the water and remain appropriately moist. Even if you’re growing the plants outdoors, keeping them in a planter sitting in a water-filled dish is best.


Top view, close-up of a potted pitcher plant. The plant forms a rosette of long, tubular, bright green leaves that form pitcher-shaped structures at the tops. These structures have intricate purple vein patterns.
Growing in containers, especially with peat moss-based soil, ensures proper moisture and drainage.

In most cases, it’s easier to grow these plants in containers than in the ground. Even if you live in a warm area, placing the plants in containers allows you to better supply them with the proper soil type and moisture level.

These plants prefer well-draining, acidic soil that holds lots of moisture. While well-draining and able to hold moisture may sound counterintuitive, they’re not! The right soil mix stays moist but also provides air pockets to allow for gas exchange and prevent problems like root rot from developing.

Since peat moss is acidic and has excellent water-holding capacity, it’s a great base for a soil mix. A good blend contains three parts of sphagnum peat moss, one part perlite, and one part sand.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of Trumpet pitcher planted in a flowerpot, indoors. Its modified leaves form tall, trumpet-shaped pitchers that showcase a brilliant array of red hues, ranging from deep crimson to vibrant scarlet. The pitchers feature intricate veining and subtle textures. The distinctive lid or hood above the pitcher's opening adds an extra layer of allure.
Maintain temperatures between 60-90°F in summer and 30-50°F in winter for dormancy.

Most American pitcher plants can tolerate light frosts but not heavy freezes. While you may want to keep them warm throughout the year, avoid doing so! Cold winter temperatures are necessary for the plants to enter dormancy.

A good guide is to keep these plants between 60-90°F during the summer and 30-50°F in the winter.

Moderate humidity is fine, but high humidity isn’t a problem. Just avoid super dry air to keep the plants happy.


Close-up of pitcher plants in a garden on a blurred background. The leaves of a pitcher plant are striking and specialized, forming elongated structures known as pitchers. These modified leaves display vibrant green color. The exterior of the leaves features intricate patterns and veining in shades of purple and crimson.
Avoid fertilizing, as this species gains nutrients by trapping and digesting insects.

One great thing about pitcher plants is they don’t require fertilizer. Adding nutrients to the soil can stress these plants, so don’t fertilize them, no matter how hungry they look.

Remember, these carnivorous plants trap unsuspecting insects and break them down to use as nutrients. It all starts when a fly or another critter draws closer to check out the plant’s bright color and alluring fragrance.

When the bugs land on the slippery pitcher surface, they lose their footing and slide down the pitcher along a network of fine hairs. The unlucky victim drowns in liquid, and the plant uses enzymes to digest it.


Close-up of Sarracenia plant with dry dead heads. The plant has elongated, modified leaves with characteristic structures known as pitchers. These structures have slightly wavy edges and vibrant veins in rich purples and crimsons. The leaves themselves have shades of green and raspberry-burgundy. Some hood-like structures are dry and brown in color.
Remove dead leaves for optimal growth and a fresh appearance.

Over time, trumpet pitcher plants will naturally develop dead leaves. This doesn’t necessarily mean the plant is unhealthy, but rather that it’s experiencing natural change. Removing dead pitchers will allow the plant to send its energy into healthy growth and keep the plant looking fresh.

When winter arrives, many pitchers will die back to the surface. Don’t worry; the plant is still alive and storing energy in its rhizomes. When spring arrives, the plants will send up new pitchers.


It’s easy to propagate healthy plants by division. Not only does this allow you to produce more plants, but it also helps prevent crowding and poor plant health.


Close-up of a pitcher plant in a sunny garden. The plant produces tall modified leaves, known as pitchers, that are bright green in color. These elongated, tubular structures exhibit intricate patterns and purple veining. The pitchers are equipped with a flared lid or hood at the top, resembling a captivating botanical chalice.
Divide in late winter or early spring for optimal growth.

Even if you aren’t interested in multiplying your number of pitcher plants, you still have to divide potted plants. Healthy plants will continue to expand and eventually become crowded in their original pot.

While you could repot the plant into a larger container, these plants are happiest when they have plenty of room to expand. Therefore, dividing the plants into multiple sections allows them to thrive.

Follow these steps to divide an American pitcher plant:

  1. Wait until the late winter or early spring arrives. Watch for the moment when the plants break dormancy and resume growing.
  2. Start with a healthy plant with a robust rhizome system.
  3. Remove the plant and its root ball from the container.
  4. Use your hands to grab the plant’s rhizomes and gently pull. The plant should tease apart into multiple sections. If the rhizomes don’t fully come apart, cut them with a sharp pair of pruning shears.
  5. Continue dividing the plant into smaller sections, ensuring each division has at least three growth points.
  6. Remove any dead leaves from the divisions. You can also trim the leaves to a few inches long, but this isn’t necessary.
  7. Place each division into a container filled with a well-draining potting mix and water well.

As I mentioned above, there are eight species of Sarracenia pitcher plants and even more hybrids. Purple pitcher plants and hybrid varieties are the easiest to grow, so they’re great options if you’re new to this type. Once you’ve proven that you can care for these plants, you can move on to more difficult species to care for.

Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

Close-up of Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) in a garden. Its modified leaves, forming tall and tubular pitchers, showcase a rich spectrum of purple and red hues, ranging from deep wine to vibrant magenta. The pitchers feature an intricate network of veins and subtle textures.
Purple pitcher plant, hardy in zones 4-9, features unique upward-opening hoods on its pitchers.

The purple pitcher plant is the hardiest type and survives outside in zones four through nine. It produces purple and green pitchers that reach up to 18 inches tall. While most plants in the Sarracenia genus contain pitcher hoods that fold over the pitcher, this plant’s hood opens to the sky.

Crimson Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla)

Close-up of Crimson Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla). Its tall, tubular pitchers exhibit a stunning array of crimson and deep red colors, creating a dramatic and eye-catching display. The pitchers feature delicate white and pale green accents, contributing to their captivating allure. Topped with an elegantly flared lid, these modified leaves resemble botanical chalices.
Native to Southern pine forests, this variety can reach three feet, with green pitchers topped by white and red.

This variety is native to moist pine forests in the South. It can grow up to three feet tall and produces green pitches with white and red tops.

Yellow Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia flava)

Close-up of Yellow Pitcher Plant in a garden with a blurred background. Its modified leaves, forming tall, tubular pitchers, showcase a brilliant array of yellow and green hues. The pitchers feature intricate purple veining, adding to their visual allure. With a graceful and slender form, these botanical goblets are topped with a flared lid, resembling elegant chalices.
Yellow pitcher plants showcase various pitcher colors, including pink and red, with tall, elegant structures.

Many yellow pitcher plants sport yellow pitchers, but other variations produce pink or red pitchers. Regardless of the pitcher color, you can expect tall, elegant pitchers with deep red veins and a large, overhanging hood.

Common Problems

Most problems growers face relate to an improper environment rather than pests or diseases. Remember to keep the soil consistently moist, avoid fertilizer, and use only distilled water or rainwater.


While many pests fall prey to the pitchers, that doesn’t mean these plants are immune to attack. Some critters attack the plant’s leaves and outer pitchers.

Sap-Sucking Pests

Close-up of a colony of Willow Carrot Aphids on a plant stem. The colony of Willow Carrot Aphids is characterized by small, soft-bodied insects that typically form dense clusters. These aphids vary in color, ranging from green to yellow, and they have elongated bodies with slender antennae and tube-like structures called cornicles projecting from their rear ends.
Watch for sap-sucking pests like aphids and spider mites and control them with neem oil or soapy solutions.

One category of pests to watch out for are small, sap-sucking critters, including aphids, spider mites, and mealy bugs. These pests pierce the plant tissue with their mouth and then suck out plant juices. While a few aphids or spider mites won’t cause much damage, these pests can rapidly multiply into damaging numbers.

Use a wet, soapy towel to wipe off small numbers of pests. If the pests are out of control, spray them with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Exyra Moths

Close-up of an Exyra Moth caterpillar inside a modified pitcher plant leaf against a blurred green background. The leaf of the plant has a cup-shaped or hood-shaped structure, white in color with bright crimson veins and wavy edges. Exyra Moth caterpillar has a flattened, cylindrical, segmented, soft body, red in color with pinkish stripes.
Watch for rare moths and caterpillars that target the plants and remove affected pitchers.

You probably haven’t heard of these moths before, and I don’t blame you. Since they only feed on American pitcher plants, they’re uncommon outside the carnivorous plant world. While the moths aren’t a problem, the red and white caterpillars can quickly eat a pitcher from the inside out.

The moths lay their eggs inside the pitchers, and the caterpillars begin feeding as soon as they emerge. Remove and dispose of the infested pitcher if you see these critters feeding on your plants.


Close-up of a plant leaf affected by powdery mildew. The green leaf is smooth, covered with irregular spots of white powdery coating. Small yellowish and brown larvae are present on the leaf.
Guard against powdery mildew by maintaining good airflow, or treat with organic copper fungicide.

Fortunately, American pitcher plants often remain disease-free. The number one disease to watch out for is powdery mildew. This fungus coats the plant in a layer of white powder, making it difficult for the plant to complete photosynthesis.

If you notice powdery mildew on your plant, increase airflow and see if the plant recovers. If it’s still infected, spray it with an organic copper fungicide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an American pitcher plant hurt a human?

While these plants are experts at trapping and killing small prey like insects and juvenile salamanders, they’re harmless to humans. You can keep them in your home without worrying about kids or pets.

Will American pitcher plants regrow pitchers?

Yes! These plants naturally lose pitchers and grow new ones throughout their life. All pitchers may die in the winter, but plants will grow new pitchers the following spring.

Do American pitcher plants complete photosynthesis?

Although they obtain nutrients from digesting pests rather than the soil, they still complete photosynthesis to produce carbohydrates. Keep your plant in full sun to help it thrive.

Final Thoughts

The American pitcher plant is a great choice if you want a unique plant to add to your collection. Provide it with mineral-free water, keep the soil always moist, and watch as it fills your life with beauty and catches pesky pests.

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