The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: About Sarracenia minor, the hooded pitcher plant

A: Sarracenia minor is immediately recognizable because of its odd similarity to a cowled or hooded villain. Because of this appearance, it has earned the name "hooded pitcher plant" by those poor souls who are inexplicably incapable of pronouncing the simpler and prettier two words, "Sarracenia minor." The Latin specific epithet indicates that most specimens of this plant are small in size, or perhaps have restrictions on drinking alcohol in some states.

In addition to the hooded lid, Sarracenia minor is unique in having a number of white dots on the upper portion of the pitcher. Different clones have differing amounts of these fenestrations. I think the purpose is to tempt day-foraging creatures into the pitcher mouth, which is otherwise very dark because the downward-canted lid excludes light so well. In fact, I think that the entire pitcher functions much as a confusing eel trap or lobster pot, similar to the strategies used by Sarracenia psittacina and Darlingtonia californica.

I have observed a number of general color variants for Sarracenia minor. The basic plant has green pitchers with white fenestrations and some red blush on the pitcher. Other plants have more intensely red lids; some have an actual cut-throat pattern as seen in some clones of Sarracenia alata. Another degree of freedom is the color of the pitcher lip: it may be green, intense red, or some intermediate color. An anthocyanin-free variant has been reported, I believe from North Carolina. In Ware county (Georgia) and Berkeley county (South Carolina), plants have been detected that are "veinless" and "semi-veinless" (terminology I describe more on the FAQ page on S. purpurea).

The clear yellow or green flower of Sarracenia minor is medium sized for the genus. If you have a stocky Sarracenia minor with lots of red pigmentation, and a bit of red in the flowers, you can be confident you have a hybrid!

States: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida.
Sarracenia minor occurs in southeastern North Carolina, the coastal half of South Carolina, southwestern Georgia, and into Florida. Its Florida range is interesting--it does not occur much west of the Apalachicola River, but it does extend as far south into the Florida peninsula as Lake Okeechobee--this is much further south than any other Sarracenia. It apparently invaded southwards as the peninsula emerged from the retreating ocean, and did so more rapidly than any other Sarracenia. Or is it simply able to invade peninsular Florida because of climatic tolerances that other Sarracenia do not share?

Of course, my range information for you is based upon historical sources. The plant, like all the other Sarracenia, is being driven to extinction by humans. Everyone is pretty confident, for example, that the Lake Okeechobee sites are gone. It still occurs in all the states I mentioned above.

There are two varieties of Sarracenia minor. The first is S. minor var. minor, and as its Latin name doubly reminds us, is small (only about 30 cm tall). However, an enormous variety lurks in the backwater districts of the marvelous Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia, and it is called S. minor var. okefenokeensis. Horticulturists may use the oddly spelled cultivar name Sarracenia 'Okee Giant' to indicate the same entity. Sarracenia minor var. okefenokeensis grows to about 70-80 cm tall. However, it is not commensurately fatter---even in full sunlight it is almost grotesquely tall and skinny. Depending upon your aesthetics, it is either particularly pretty or repulsive. Uma Thurman generates the same kind of bimodal response, I have seen.

An anthocyanin-free variant occurs, and is called S. minor var. minor f. viridescens.

In all the S. minor var. minor plants I have seen, the flowers are about as tall as the pitchers or perhaps just a tiny bit shorter, although Don Schnell shows a plant in his book from North Carolina with short flower stalks. Meanwhile, the flower stalks on S. minor var. okefenokeensis are much shorter than the pitchers.

Don Schnell has given a prescription for how to differentiate the two varieties, which should only be used on flowering sized plants growing in full sun. The height of the plant, divided by the "diameter," is about 8 for S. minor var. minor, but it is 15 for S. minor var. okefenokeensis. I set the word "diameter" in quotes because the measurement you are taking is a little strange. First, look at the pitcher in profile. Notice the rim of the pitcher mouth is tilted downward, as in this photograph. Orient your ruler at the same slant as the pitcher rim, and measure the length from the front of the pitcher mouth, where the mouth joins the ala, to the back of the pitcher hood. Got it? If not, refer to the original publication by Schnell (2002b).

Sarracenia minor has an important role in the history of our understanding of carnivorous plants, by the way. In the 1870s, the North Carolinian doctor Joseph Hinson Mellichamp collected specimens and experimented upon them in his kitchen, proving to his (and my!) satisfaction that the plants were carnivorous. This was the first demonstration of carnivory by any plant, despite suggestions to this effect by John Ellis in 1769 and G.T. Burnett in 1829!

Research into the fluids of Sarracenia minor pitchers have revealed a rich microbial flora, as you might expect. Numerous strains of bacteria in the genera Bacillus, Chryseobacterium, Lactococcus, Micrococcus, Pantoea, Rhodococcus, and Serratia have been discovered. Some of these bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen and thus might help Sarracenia minor obtain nitrogen in hitherto undocumented pathways.

Page citations: Kartesz, J. et al. 2009 (BONAP); Mazur, C.J. & Lechtman, J. 2005; McDaniel, S. 1971; McPherson, S. & Schnell, D. 2011; Rice, B.A. 2006a; Schnell, D. 2002a, 2002b; Siragusa, A.J. et al. 2007; personal observations.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018