Pitcher plant pitchers drying up

Plant of the Week

Range map of Sarracenia flava. States are colored green where the species may be found.

Trumpets with Smooth Meadow Beauties in wet savanna habitat. Photo by Ricky Wrenn.

Squirrel tree frog rests on the hood of a trumpet pitcher plant. Photo by Mark Danaher.

Trumpets flowering on the Francis Marion National Forest. Photo by Mark Danaher.

Close up of Sarracenia flava pitchers. Photo by Ricky Wrenn.

Yellow Pitcherplant, or Trumpets (Sarracenia flava)

By Robin Mackie

Sarracenia flava is one of our tallest pitcher plants, a member of the genus Sarracenia, which contains 8 to 11 species of North American pitcher plants. Named after D.Sarrazin, a 17th century botanist of Quebec, most species in the genus (with the exception of Sarracenia purpurea) occur only in the southeastern United States. They have simple nodding flowers and leaves modified as hollow pitchers, which function to passively trap insects, luring them with nectar, then digesting them or drowning them with fluids, later to be absorbed by the plant.

The habitat of trapping insects in modified leaves or trumpets is thought to have been developed in response to the nutrient-poor soil conditions of wet or frequently flooded areas typical of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This method of trapping is “passive” in that the plant does not close to eat its prey. Insect prey are lured into the slippery waxy portion of the upper pitcher tube by nectar, then slide down a coating of ultra-fine, downward point hairs, hitting the digestive enzymes, and into a zone which readily absorbs nutrients with digestive fluids. Although amphibians often use the pitchers as refugia, the paralyzing agent coniine has been isolated in S.flava fluids.

Easily distinguished from other pitcher plants by their tall, upright, yellow green or sometime red-veined pitchers (up to 3 foot tall), trumpet pitchers have large, broadly reniform hoods which lack white patches (windows), and arch widely over the column. The narrow base of the hood has sides that roll back until nearly touching, and often exhibit a maroon spot on the inside of the column. Large yellow, 5-parted flowers appear from April to May, have an unpleasant ‘cat-pee’ like odor, and are held singly on long stems above the pitchers to avoid trapping of potential pollinators. The fruit forms in 5 lobes and takes 5 months to mature, splitting to scatter 300-600 seeds which are 1.5-2mm in length, and have a rough, waxy coat for dispersal by water. New Sarracenia plants usually germinate in spring and immediately begin building tiny pitchers, which in subsequent years become larger as the plant grows. They eat bugs all summer long until the pitchers die back in fall, translocating nutrients from the pitchers to the underground rhizomes.

On the Francis Marion National Forest, dense colonies of trumpets are often found in low pH, organic soils, in isolated wetlands within fire-maintained pine savannas or pocossin ecotones, and may be in association with other pitcher plants (Sarracenia minor, rubra), and a variety of other wet longleaf pine associates. The yellow pitcher plant is easy to cultivate, and is one the most popular carnivorous plants in horticulture.

For More Information

  • PLANTS Profile – Sarracenia flava, yellow pitcherplant

Plant Database

Cressler, Alan

Sarracenia flava

Sarraceniaceae (Pitcher-plant Family)

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

A carnivorous plant bearing showy, bright yellow, drooping flowers and erect, trumpet-shaped, hollow, inflated leaves; flowers have a musty odor.

This mostly southern plant has hollow leaves that fill with water in which insects and other small organisms drown; their soft parts are then digested by the plant. A similar species, Trumpet Pitcher-plant (S. alata), with fiddle-shaped petals and leaves without the purple constriction at the base of the hood, is found from Alabama west to Texas; its range apparently does not overlap with that of Trumpets. Green Pitcher-plant (S. oreophila), found in North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, is classified as an endangered species.

From the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Subshrub

Bloom Information

Bloom Time: Apr , May


USA: AL , FL , GA , NC , NJ , SC , VA
Native Distribution: New Jersey; Virginia south to Florida and west to Alabama.
Native Habitat: Wet pinelands and bogs.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Plant identification, green and tube-like
September 18, 2008
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

Status: OBL OBL

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241).Click herefor map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Longwood Gardens – Kennett Square, PA
Mt. Cuba Center – Hockessin, DE

Additional resources

USDA: Find Sarracenia flava in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Sarracenia flava in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Sarracenia flava


Record Modified: 2019-08-12
Research By: TWC Staff

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No terrariums. No myths. No nonsense.
Get the straight facts from the guys who have grown and propagated thousands of carnivorous plants every year since 1995.

Sarracenia, the North American pitcher plants, are native to the US Gulf Coast states and all along the East Coast, from Eastern Texas through to Florida, and north through the New England states and the Southern provinces of Canada. There is even one natural population in extreme east British Columbia! These plants get their name from their pitcher-shaped leaves. They capture insects by producing nectar along the rim of their pitchers. When an insect starts to lick up the nectar, it tries to get more by reaching in the pitcher. When it loses its footing, it falls right in!

The inside walls of the pitcher are very smooth, so insects are not able to crawl out. They also can’t fly out because there isn’t any airlift in a tube! Eventually the insect dies, and as it decomposes, the plant absorbs its nutrients right through its leaves. Mmm….

Where to Grow

Sarracenia grow best outdoors as a container or potted plant on a sunny deck or patio. You may also grow them in a pond or fountain, but keep their crowns above water. Because of their specific soil requirements, avoid planting them directly into the ground.


During the growing season, grow your Sarracenia outside in full sun with 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, for vigorous growth. If full sun is not possible, provide a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight with bright indirect light during the rest of the day. Such a plant won’t be as vibrantly colored as one grown in full sun, but they can still grow more/less healthily.

Heat Tolerance

Sarracenia tolerate the summer heat well. They originate from an area where temperatures above 90°F (32°C) commonly occur in summer.
At our nursery in Oregon, our plants are well accustomed to hot dry summers.
On occasion, our relative humidity drops as low as 12%.


Sarracenia require mineral-free water. If your tap water is relatively pure (less than 50 parts per million in dissolved minerals), then you can safely water your Sarracenia with it. Otherwise, use bottled distilled water. Keep the soil wet at all times. You can do this by setting the plant in small amounts of standing water, no more than halfway up the pot.


Use a soil mixture of 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Never use potting soil, compost or fertilizer; these ingredients will kill your plants.

Winter Care

Sarracenia require 3-4 months of winter dormancy triggered by cold temperatures (below 50°F or 10°C) and shorter daylight hours. As your plants enter dormancy, they will stop growing altogether. Some plants will retain their pitchers into winter, but many leaves will turn brown. While dormant, your plants can withstand overnight frosts down to 20°F (-7°C). As long as temperatures rise above freezing during the day, you don’t need to protect them. However, even while dormant, plants will still need to sit in a small amount of standing water to prevent their soil from drying out.
If you live in zones 7 and 8, pay attention to weather alerts. If weather forecasts predict the daytime temperature will remain below freezing for more than a couple of days, you will need to protect your plants from frost burn, a type of dehydration that occurs during prolonged freezes. Cover your plants with tarp (or move them to an unheated enclosure). When the daytime temperature rises above freezing, you may uncover your plants and allow it to continue its dormancy as usual.
If you live in zones 6 or colder, areas where the temperature routinely drops below freezing for more than a week at a time, you will need to mulch your container plants for the winter. Maintain soil moisture whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Uncover your plants in early spring.

Our nursery is in USDA zone 8. We experience temperatures as low as 10°F (-12°C).


In this concise ebook, Jacob Farin, co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest, will show you how to think like a professional carnivorous plant grower to keep your first carnivorous plant alive and healthy. You will learn specifics about sunlight, water, soil and winter care. You will also learn how to troubleshoot the most common problems that new growers face. When you gain experience growing the most common carnivorous plants in cultivation, you will have the knowledge base to grow other plants with greater confidence.
If you are new to carnivorous plants or have struggled to keep them alive for more than a couple of months, this ebook is for you!

Browning Pitcher Plants: Why A Pitcher Plant Turns Yellow Or Brown

Adding a pitcher plant or three to your garden or interior space adds a touch of the unusual. Beyond being interesting carnivorous specimens, the pitcher plant produces a beautiful bloom as a reward to a gardener who has cared for it well. When your pitcher plant turns yellow or brown, it’s not time to panic; these hardy plants are hard to keep down for long.

Is My Pitcher Plant Dying?

More than likely, your pitcher plant is just getting older; browning or yellowing pitcher plants are perfectly normal even when plants have received excellent care. As individual pitchers age, they may start to yellow, then brown and collapse. If it’s only the oldest or largest pitchers doing this, it’s nothing to worry about; your plant is just shedding its oldest pitchers. As fall approaches, a normal plant will begin to go dormant and stop replacing the shed pitchers.

If you’re unsure about pitcher plant care and the pitcher plant turning brown or yellow is discolored all over, you may have bigger problems. Although pitcher plants are bog natives, they don’t tolerate standing water like their carnivorous contemporaries, immediately reduce watering to dry out the soil around the plant’s crown. If you’re watering with tap water, this could be causing problems as well. Many fanciers believe the heavy minerals in tap water can cause injury, so stick to purified or filtered water.

Other Causes of Environmental Stress

Pitcher plants that are changing color may be trying to tell you that something is wrong in their environment. This requires a total evaluation of the system where they live; these plants are not the same as your philodendrons or gerbera daisies and they have very unique needs. Your growing medium should be loose but absorbent, like the bogs from which these plants hail. A slightly acidic pH is also beneficial.

Try moving your plant into a sunny area; pitcher plants need full sun to do their best. However, if you place them in a window with bright, direct sunlight, they may burn, so choose your location carefully.

Humidity should be high, around 60 percent when possible. Moving your plant to a terrarium might improve its color. Remember that carnivorous plants thrive in poor soils and get most of their nutrition from consuming insects; fertilizer can be very damaging to these plants.

Black Pitcher Plant Leaves – Why Nepenthes Leaves Are Turning Black

A pitcher plant isn’t for gardeners who like to take home an interesting plant, set it on the windowsill, and hope they remember to water it now and then. It’s a plant with specific needs, and it lets you know with alarming clarity when those needs aren’t being met. This article explains what to do when you find your pitcher plant’s leaves turning black.

Why are Pitcher Plants Turning Black?

When pitcher plant (Nepenthes) leaves are turning black, it is usually the result of shock or a sign that the plant is going into dormancy. Something as simple as a change in conditions the plant experiences when you bring it home from the nursery can cause shock. A pitcher plant can also go into shock when any of its needs aren’t being met. Here are some things to check:

  • Is it getting the right amount of light? Pitcher plants need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. It will thrive outdoors in hot, humid climates.
  • Does it have enough water? Pitcher plants like to be thoroughly wet. Set the pot in a shallow dish and keep an inch or two of water in the dish at all times. Not just any water will do. Pitcher plants need filtered or purified water.
  • Are you feeding your plant? If you set it outside, it will attract its own food. Indoors, you’ll have to drop a cricket or mealworm down the pitcher from time to time. You can buy crickets and mealworms at a bait shop or a pet store.

Here’s another tip to help you avoid shock (and black pitcher plant leaves): leave it in the pot it came in. It will be fine for a few years. Transplanting a pitcher plant into a new pot is an advanced skill, and you should take lots of time to get to get to know your plant first. If the pot is unattractive, set it inside another pot.

Dormant Pitcher Plant with Black Leaves

You may occasionally see dormant pitcher plants with black leaves, but it’s even more likely that the plant is dead. Pitcher plants go dormant in fall. First, the pitcher turns brown and may die back to the ground. You may also lose some leaves. It’s hard for beginners to tell the difference between dormancy and death, but remember that tinkering with the plant and sticking your finger into the soil to feel the roots can kill it. It’s best to just wait it out and see if the plant comes back.

You can help your plant survive dormancy by keeping it cool and giving it lots of sunlight. You can leave it outdoors if your winters are mild—just remember to bring it in if a frost threatens. Providing cool, well-lit conditions in cold climates is more of a challenge, but if all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with flowers in the spring.

Sick Pitcher plant

Hello, I have to admit that I only have limited experience with pitcher plants. I had one in the bog portion of my pond for two years. I can’t tell much from the photos that you sent that would tell me what the differences from now and when your plant was healthy. There are variations of coloring in these plants and you did not designate the species. I have been doing a lot of reading and found some sources that may help you determine what/where the issue is. The below link comes from the International Carnivorous Plant Society. There is a wealth of information that may help you decide what may be ailing your plant. One thing that jumped out at me is that there are multiple references to using only rain water or osmotically produced water. Since we have not had normal rainfall amounts for the last couple years and much higher than normal temperatures this year, is it possible that you have used water that contains minerals or chemicals to water your plant? The other thing that we are finding as a theme in this hot summer is that people are watering their plants (in general) about the same as they always have. The normal amount may not be sufficient in the temperatures and wind conditions we have been experiencing lately. Plants not getting enough water can turn reddish or brown under these conditions. The second thing that caused me to wonder is the recommendation of this and other websites to use only Sphagnum peat moss and to be careful not to use ‘other’ peats as a potting material. Additionally the size of the sand particles seems to be a concern with the larger particles being preferred some sites even suggest the addition of small particles of perlite. The sources are very specific in the size of the grains and also not to use sand from ocean beach sources. After reading all this it is a wonder to me that my plant lasted for two years as my well water is loaded with minerals and I certainly did not have the proper potting mixture. Here is the link you can navigate around on it for other information about pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants.


If you are concerned that you plant may have some sort of disease or insect problem please bring in a sample to the Master Gardener Information Desk in the Extension office during business hours, M-F, 9-5. Phone first to determine if there is a Master Gardener on duty 541-766-6750. The Benton County Extension office is located at 4077 Research Way, Corvallis.

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