fresh flower


This carnivorous flower is exotic yet versatile.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Cobra lily, Pitcher plant
Photo courtesy of Nurserymen's Exchange, Inc.

1 trumpets sound. Sarracenias (pronounced sar-uh-SEN-ee-uhs), commonly known as pitcher plants and in the cut flower industry as cobra lilies, are widely varied and unusual in appearance. The pitcher, rather than the actual flower, is the part of the plant used as a cut flower. It is generally long and tubular, but some varieties are squat, including the purple pitcher plant (also known as huntsman's cup).

2 family bond. Sarracenias are members of the Sarraceniaceae family. There are three genera and 15 species of these perennial plants. Most are suitable as cut flowers but not all of them are grown commercially.

3 from the U.S.A. Floral enthusiasts often are surprised to learn that all species of Sarracenias are native to eastern North America, from New Jersey to the Arctic. They also have adapted to the bogs, savannas and flat woods of Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland and Iowa.

4 name dedication. This genus was named for and dedicated to Dr. Michel Sarrazin, a Quebec surgeon and botanist, who used the leaves to treat smallpox victims in 1700 and first sent these plants to Europe. The common name pitcher plant comes from the unusual shape of the leaf and its capacity for holding water.

5 the trap. Sarracenias are carnivorous and insectivorous plants. Their trumpets are rimmed with a sweet-smelling nectar. When an insect lands on the pitcher to feed, it is first intoxicated by a narcoticlike substance present in the nectar. As it moves about the surface of the pitcher, it encounters a slick, waxy surface just below the rim and falls in. The narrow pitcher restricts the insect's wings, and downward-pointing hairs force the prey to go deeper into the pitcher, where it is digested. The plants obtain phosphorus, nitrogen, vitamins and other trace minerals from their prey.

6 earthy colors. There are many varieties of Sarracenias, most of which are bicolored or variegated with red, green and white combinations. The flowers' petals, sepals and bracts are generally colored to attract insects.

7 summer shopping. Sarracenias are most readily available from April through September from domestic sources although world markets are making them available year-round. Look for fully open, plump, turgid stems. Avoid flowers that have been flattened or that appear dehydrated and any stems that exhibit evidence of powdery mildew, spotting, yellowing, damage or mold.

8 standard process. Unpack Sarracenias immediately upon arrival. Cut at least 1 inch off each stem, and dip or place the stems into a hydration solution. Then place them into a properly prepared flower-food solution. Place the flowers in a floral refrigerator at 34 F to 36 F, and allow them to take up water for at least two hours before designing with or selling them. These stems should be recut and the water changed at least every other day.

9 a lasting value. Fresh Sarracenias will last for seven to 10 days. They dry well and can be used in long-lasting designs.

10 the good doctor. Derivatives of Sarracenias have been used for centuries as tonics, laxatives and diuretics. They have been used in the southern United States to treat dyspepsia. They also have been used by North American Indians to cure smallpox with great success.

thanks to:
The Botanical Society of America,;
The International Carnivorous Plant Society,;
and, A Modern Herbal,

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 28 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at or by phone at (415) 239-3140.

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