Okefenokee’s Pitcher Plants

Alligator, Okefenokee Swamp

It had been about a half hour of boating along the Okefenokee Swamp’s main channel before we arrived at the pitcher plant area.

 

In that time, several alligators cruised by our boat searching for fish or snakes to devour, their menacing eyes regarding us with dead blankness.

Alligator and Spanish Moss, Okefenokee

 

Our guide was excited to show us the carnivorous plants. Later I would understand why, but for now it was eerie: hungry alligators half-hidden in black water, masses of thick moss hanging from every tree–and we were on our way to see flesh-eating plants.

 

Permanently saturated wetlands, like the Okefenokee, have acidic water; soil is typically low in nitrogen and nutrients. Carnivorous pitcher plants have adapted to obtain minerals and nutrition from the living beings they trap.

 

Pitcher plants, their rhizomes underwater, can be seen hidden in thickets of tall grasses. Look closely in the center of this photo.

 

 

Okefenokee Swamp, pitcher plants in center

 

You look at this elegant plant never thinking it has skeletons floating inside.

Pitcher Plant

 

There are two major pitcher plant families in the world: Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniacea. The genus Nepenthes, found in the Old World, has more than 170 species of pitcher plants; found in many parts of Asia and elsewhere.

 

The Sarraceniacea pitcher plants are found in the New World, and all are native to North America.

 

The plants use chemicals and/or physical properties to attract and ensnare prey. Their shapes, which vary among species, are also a key factor in trapping prey.

 

The various species are known to attract ants, termites, flies, beetles, moths, or butterflies. Some species attract spiders, and still other species extract nourishment from bat feces or forest floor detritus.

 

The Okefenokee species, the Hooded Pitcher Plant, attracts ants and a wide range of flying insects.

 

There are glands near the top of Sarracenia minor that produce sweet-smelling nectar. Insects are attracted to the scent.

 

In addition, the white spots on the back of the hood, areoles, are translucent, allowing light to enter into the pitcher. Insects are lured in by the sweet smell and the light. In springtime there is a flower, also an attractant.

 

Notice the white “windows” in this close-up.

Sarracenia minor, Okefenokee

 

Once inside, the insect is trapped by stiff, down-pointing hairs that do not allow exit. They slide down the pitcher’s narrow shape, and are caught in water at the base, where they drown.

 

Dissolved enzymes in the water eventually digest the insects. The plant absorbs the insects’ soft parts, and the skeletons remain.

 

The hood of this species also prevents the trapped insect from escaping, while keeping rainwater out of the pitcher’s enzymatic waters.

 

A meat-eating plant filled with skeletons…grows in swamp water…attracts, kills, and eats insects.

 

Oh, the endless marvel of nature.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

A Sarracenia rhizome. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Sarracenia minor range.png

Range of Sarracenia minor. Southeast U.S. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

87 thoughts on “Okefenokee’s Pitcher Plants

    • It’s probably best that none of us ever get used to an alligator, Ingrid…ha. I’m glad you found the pitcher plants as fascinating as I did. Really nice to have you stop by, thanks so much.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the similarity of the pitcher plants to cobras, Timothy, just another cool thing about this plant. Glad you liked the alligator photos, couldn’t leave them out, what would a southern swamp be without alligators? Thanks so much for your visit, always appreciated.

    • That’s really funny, Craig. Wouldn’t want the carnivorous plants in the vegetable crisper sneaking into the meat drawer, would we. Thanks for your great comment, much enjoyed.

    • Fun to share the alligator and carnivorous plants of Okefenokee Swamp with you, John. It’s an eye-opening story for a plant. Thanks so much, I always appreciate your visits.

    • It’s a treat to share the fascination of the pitcher plants with you, Amy. Athena has a very long lens so we weren’t super close to the alligator. Great fun to visit with you today, Amy, thank you.

    • There’s always something to enjoy in nature, as you know, Jane. Swamps have far more beauty and magic than people know, so it’s fun to share it here. Wonderful to have you visit, thanks, Jane.

  1. Just a another part of the cycle of life on Earth, these incredible plants play their part
    controling, digesting, and then expelling material back into the swamp for use by them
    and other plants living there.
    Great photos and explanations share with us your fabulous adventures.
    Enjoy a wonderful weekend dear Jet.

    • It sounds like you are familiar with the pitcher plants, Eddie, given your appreciation for the cycle of life that they offer. I know from your photos and home location that you enjoy the beauties of the Florida tropics. I enjoyed researching and writing this, and thank you for your gracious comment. My best to you, Eddie.

  2. Oh my that sounds like something for a thriller novel! I had no idea such a plant existed to be honest. Now if it starts eating the alligator’s I’d say you have a best seller on your hands. As I often say I’m always learning when I visit your blog. Best wishes to you and Athena!

    • You are not wrong with the rhythm of nature, Sue, there are definitely hunters and prey out there…we just don’t expect it in plants. I liked your comments on the bestselling novel material, and will keep it mind when crafting my next character: a plant that eats alligators. Always a true joy to hear from you, my friend, thanks so much.

  3. I could hear spooky music playing in my mind as I read this post, Jet! You really made the thrill and uniqueness of the swamp come alive. Thank you, as always.

    • Next time we go, Nan, I’ll be looking more astutely for each and every pitcher plant clump, now that I know how VERY COOL they are. Wonderful memories of our day together in The Okefenokee, Nan. Thank you so much.

    • I like hearing what your writer’s mind conjured up, Jan, comparing the pitcher plants to standing prairie dogs, and I completely agree. Very fun insight! Thank you, as always, for your visits, Jan.

  4. I once saw a TV program showing insects trying to get out through the “windows” in the sides of the pitcher plant. They try and try until they exhaust themselves and fall into the bottom of the pitcher to be devoured. The design of these pitcher plants to feed themselves in such an intricate and complicated way is what blows me away. They must have developed over eons. What a nightmare for an insect. I also wanted to add that the thought of being in a small boat beside those alligators horrifies me. Haven’t you heard about boats being tipped and people being dragged under? Or is it only crocodiles that do that? Either way, you’d never get me out there (and I’m usually considered to be relatively gutsy). In this case I would definitely be the biggest chicken of them all.

    • I have seen those tumultuous channels that you and the Capt. boat through, Anneli, so you calling yourself the “biggest chicken” doesn’t really compute. ha. I, too, find the pitcher plants amazing in their evolution and intricacies. I liked hearing about the program showing the insects trying to get through the “windows.” Thank so much for your comment, much enjoyed.

  5. Like many other things, some good (eating bad things) and some bad (eating good things.) The shape makes me think of cobras. 🙂 We had an opossum living under our deck (and might still.) My husband was talking about having someone come out to catch it, but when I told him it ate lots and lots of ticks, he changed his mind. We’d thought about having a bat house at our Cleveland home, but never got around to it.

    Have a great weekend.

    janet

    • I enjoyed hearing about the opossum under your deck, Janet, and agree that there’s always numerous things to consider, as you say, some good, some bad. Many thanks for your visit, always appreciated. Hope you have a good weekend, too.

    • I was wondering if anyone would bring up the giant man-eating Venus Flytrap in LSofH — the biggest carnivorous plant of all. Loved your comment, Eliza, really fun. Thanks so much.

  6. A few years back, my older two boys were enamored with carnivorous plant species. We had a collection! Alas, anything that must be cared for necessarily at this house usually dies a slow eventual death. They didn’t escape.

    I learned last week that one of my favorite prairies has sundews around the ‘prairie potholes.’ Tiny but cool! I look forward to logging my first wild Drosera capillaris this year. Be well, Jet. I’ve missed you being away, but I’m not quite back yet. I’ll pop in again soon!

    • Truly wonderful to hear from you, Shannon, and I enjoyed hearing about your two boys’ fascination, also the sundews. Thanks so much for stopping by. Take good care of yourself.

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment, BJ, I’m delighted you enjoyed the Pitcher plants and the Okefenokee adventure. I, too, was surprised that there were so many different types of pitcher plants. Many thanks.

      • Even though we see ‘gators all the time here, I really don’t know if I’d feel comfortable riding along in a low open boat right next to them, looking for flesh-eating plants, either 😬- your description of the experience is terrific.

  7. Now I may have nightmares about flesh eating plants, Jet. Shiver. These pitcher plants are fascinating yet the dread in my stomach remained. Fantastic photos! I especially was drawn to the alligator and moss image. That one just holds so much magic! Another great informative post and I thank you for it!

    • I’m glad you stopped by and enjoyed the pitcher plant post and the alligator photo, Amy. I hope you don’t get nightmares. But if this gives you nightmares, you really don’t want to go on an African safari, where it’s a much more brutal world in nature. Many thanks for your visit, Amy.

      • What came to mind was the Venus Fly Trap for one, Jet. There is much in Nature I’d rather not see yet even those things make up Nature as a whole. Everything does have a purpose.

  8. It sure is a dog eat dog world! Or plant eat ant. Swamp things! I’m not sure I could be persuaded to take a paddling trip through alligator territory, but I’m delighted you shared your adventure here – thanks, Jet!

    • As always, I enjoyed your words here, pc. Yes, the natural world is not all sweetness and butterflies, and I’m glad I could share this adventure at the Okefenokee with you. Lots of smiles to you, my friend.

  9. The narrative for this post could be part of a thriller book…. The Okefenokee Swamp always fascinated me – from afar- and so to see through your eyes the plants and life there is quite something. Not a place I would want to be in the middle of the night:). Thank you.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the narrative here, Janet. It’s a tricky thing to feature a plant that is exciting. I agree with you, Janet, definitely wouldn’t want to be there in the middle of the night. Wonderful to have you stop by, thank you.

  10. Pingback: Okefenokee’s Pitcher Plants — Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  11. This was a wonderful post, Jet. I was surprised beyond words to find bogs and pitcher plants in east Texas. The species is different, but the way they go about their business isn’t. I like them in all stages, too. In the fall, they provide some autumn color that’s gorgeous. As for the alligators, I encountered a mama with several babies at my favorite refuge a couple of weeks ago. While it was hard to get an unobstructed view because of a boardwalk and a fence, she was more than willing to allow photos. The mother’s been around the refuge for years, and is relatively used to people, so as long as you don’t get too close or make a fast move, all is well. And those babies are cute!

    • Really enjoyed hearing about the pitcher plants and alligators in your east Texas neck of the woods, Linda. When we don’t have this habitat in our daily routine, it is interesting to see how resident nature lovers like you deal with it. Thanks so much.

    • The skeletons inside a pitcher plant are not something one would really think about, you’re right, Dave. Our guide, who had studied pitcher plants extensively in his schooling, told us about cutting the pitchers open during his studies, and the skeletons he found. The plant world is definitely extensive. Thanks for your visit.

    • Yes, it is not an easy way to go for an insect, Jo. I join you on being grateful for not being a flying insect…for so many reasons. 🙂 Always a joy to “see” you, Jo.

  12. These are so cool! I saw similar ones at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. They are like something out of a nightmare or horror movie but so cool! The interesting things that exist in nature! Thank you for sharing these great shots!

    • I like hearing that the Okefenokee pitcher plants look very different from your local ones, Melissa. There are so many kinds. Thanks for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

    • It’s always a great joy for me to share some of these marvels, Bertie, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the pitcher plants. Thanks so much for your visits, much enjoyed.

  13. Wow! Great post Jet! 😃 I have heard of Pitcher Plants but never knew there was such a variety. Looks like you had quite the adventure getting there to see them. 🐊 Nature is so amazing! 🌿

    • Oh how we loved visiting the Okefenokee Swamp, Jill. I’m glad you enjoyed this vicarious visit. My sister recently moved to that area, so I am looking forward to visiting there again.

    • I think it’s great that your grandmother has these unique plants in her yard. Many people would’ve pulled them, thinking they were weeds. Great comment, thank you Leif.

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