Dracula in the Garden

Oct 21, 2008

The red-pigmented white pitcher plant we purchased at the UC Davis Arboretum Plant Faire looks like a flamboyant coral reef. Like a hat askew, its ruffled “lid” hangs over the trumpet-shaped “pitcher.” The pitcher is actually a long, hollow tubular leaf.

But looks are deceiving. 

Sarracenia leucophylla
is a carnivorous plant. It draws insects and then devours them. In the few weeks we’ve had it, it’s gobbled blow flies, snagged tachinid (parasitic) flies, and horrors, it ate two of our beloved honey bees. 

I do not think I like this plant.

Our bee friendly garden is no longer friendly.  There’s war in our garden of peace. We have a weapon of mass destruction right in our own backyard. And you think Dracula is scary on Halloween! 

Ernesto Sandoval, curator of the College of Biological Sciences Greenhouses at UC Davis, knows the plant well.

“Ah, yes, the horrors of indiscriminate insectivity!” he says. “The Sarracenia, especially S. leucophylla are really good indicators of the relative abundance of insects and unfortunately, even honey bees are convinced to visit the flower-mimicking leaves.” 

Sandoval says Sarracenia grow up and down the east coast of North America from Florida to Canada.

"The well-known Venus Fly Trap is native to North Carolina and just a little bit of South Carolina," he says. "They grow in places where nutrient poor sandy soils cannot sustain trees and instead give way to these insectivores as well as grasses and other low-nutrient-tolerant plants."

Meanwhile, I think I heard the plant burb.


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

This is a pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla. It's carnivorous. The tubular leaf (left) is spent. The other two are ready to trap insects. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pitcher plant

A tachinid (parasitic) fly tries to exit the pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Trapped Tachinid Fly