How to Grow Pitcher Plants
Sometimes called monkey cups, these carnivorous plants are found in regions of the world with high humidity and tropical climates. Originating from the Old World tropics, these plants are now naturalized to many parts to the world, and their diversity has allowed them to adapt to many different climates and regions. Today, these carnivorous plants are great for indoor houseplants, and are typically potted in hanging baskets and containers so that the pitchers can hang down from the plant and attract insects and flies into their open pitcher structures.
The plant itself is actually very interesting. They are made up of broad green leaves that are quite simple, usually 2-4 inches across, and connect in the center of the plant, much like a fern would grow. The leaves are a shiny, waxy texture, and have a central vein that runs the length of the back of the leaf. The large vein, called a midrib, does not stop at the end of the leaf like in most plants, but continues past the tip of the leaf and forms a tendril, a thin extension of the larger vein that has the pitcher attached to it. The tendrils develop a small bud at their ends, and from that bud, the pitchers are developed.
The tendrils attach to the base of the pitchers, and the pitchers grow upwards from the tendril in order to keep their fluids inside. Each pitcher has a rim, made up of ribs, and a lid that closes over them in order to trap its prey. The insides of the pitcher are waxy and smooth to keep prey from climbing out of the pitcher before the lid has closed, and are filled with a liquid, they the plant produces itself, to digest and trap the prey inside. The liquid inside the pitchers is thicker than water, and is intended to trap insects and flies so that the plant can digest them. The bottom of the pitcher, near where the tendril attaches, has small glands that help to extract nutrients from the prey, and are then sent through the tendril, back to the plant.
When you buy your own pitcher plant, it is important when you get it home, to ensure that it has enough liquid in its pitchers to survive. While the plant does produce its own liquid, it is important to help it along because pitchers that are left empty for too long can dry up and die off and you will need to wait for a new leaf to grow before a new pitcher will be developed. In order to do this, you will need to add purified or distilled water to each pitcher, filling each to about one third of the way up the pitcher. Distilled or purified water, typically bottled water will do, is important to use, because treated water contains chlorine and other minerals that are too harsh for the pitcher plant and will cause them to die back. Once the water has been added to each pitcher, the plant will begin to produce enzymes of its own to help digest its prey, and will cause the liquid to thicken which helps to stop insects from flies from flying out of the pitchers.
Over time, once the pitcher plant has grown too big for its pot, you can transplant it carefully to another container, making sure to increase the pot by only one size at a time. Pots or containers that are too large for your plant will not drain properly and can cause the roots to rot. The pitcher plant has a very shallow root system and prefers loamy and peat-dense soils that retain moisture. Naturally, they grow in damp and loamy regions like bogs, so it is important to make sure that the soil that you have indoors for them to grow in is similar to their natural settings.