pitcher plant

pitcher plant, any of several insectivorous plants with leaves adapted for trapping insects. Each leaf forms a "pitcher," a somewhat trumpet-shaped enclosure, usually containing a liquid. An insect that enters, lured by nectar and sometimes by brilliant coloration, is prevented from retreating by deflexed bristles and ultimately is drowned in the fluid. The trapped insects are apparently digested by plant enzymes and perhaps by bacteria present in the collected rainwater solution. There are three families of pitcher plants. The American family (the Sarraceniaceae) comprises three genera of bog plants, Sarracenia of E North America, Darlingtonia of N California and adjacent Oregon (the single species is D. californica ), and Heliamphora of N South America. The common pitcher plant, or side-saddle flower ( S. purpurea ), is found in bogs from Labrador to Florida and Iowa. The Nepenthaceae, an Old World tropical family, ranging from China to Australia and Pacifica and found chiefly in Borneo, consists of the single genus Nepenthes. Many of its species and hybrids, sometimes also called monkey cups, are cultivated as novelties for their large and showy pendent pitchers. The largest pitchers are found in Nepenthes species, some of which are apparently modified to attract small mammals to feed on their nectar so that the pitchers can catch the animals' feces. The Australian pitcher plant ( Cephalotus follicularis ) is the single species of the family Cephalotaceae. The bottom leaves of its low rosette are modified into brightly colored, slipper-shaped receptacles with lids and teeth. Other insectivorous plants include the bladderwort, butterwort, Venus's-flytrap, and sundew.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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