Native Americans were probably familiar with Sarracenia or Pitcher Plants for a considerable length of time before European explorers discovered them sometime during the early 1500s. The earliest known illustration of Sarracenia was published in 1576 in De L'Obel's, Nova Stirpium Adversaria. The Canadian physician, Dr. M. S. Sarrazin, sent plants, presumably Sarracenia purpurea, to a Mr. Tournefort in Europe. Tournefort's description of the plants became the basis of the genus which was named in honor of Dr. Sarrazin. Although numerous early authors suggested the possible carnivorous nature of these plants, none pursued the subject. Goebel and Higley demonstrated that Sarracenia plants can absorb materials through the pitcher walls. Zipperer in 1885 detected digestive enzymes in the plants' secretions. In 1918 Hepburn, St. John, and Jones demonstrated categorically that the plants are capable of digesting prey.
Pitcher Plants are native to North America. They are found in bogs, swamps, low wetlands, open pinelands and sometimes in wooded areas. (Photo 3-1) Burning over their range benefits their survival by removing debris and competing plants, and releasing nutrients from organic matter.
There are nine known species in the genus at the present time; the status of one of the nine is currently contested. In addition, there are numerous varieties and hybrids.
Sarracenia plants are herbaceous perennials consisting of a rhizome with fibrous roots and hollow tube-like ascidiform leaves, which are called pitchers. There is an extension of the leaf that forms a canopy-type structure, called a hood, covering the opening of the pitchers, except in one species. In Sarracenia purpurea the hood does not cover the pitcher opening. The leaves, or pitchers, are decumbent in two species and erect in the remainder. The pitchers ususally form a rosette around the growing point on the rhizome. The lower portion of the pitcher corresponds to the petiole and the upper portion to the leaf blade. (Fig. 3-1)
When Sarracenia seeds germinate, the first leaves to appear are the cotyledons. The leaves produced thereafter are almost identical in all species and resemble miniature mature leaves of Sarracenia minor. These leaves are known as juvenile leaves and are produced for a year or two by plants grown from seed. Juvenile leaves are often the first leaves produced during asexual propagation. In addition to these leaves, some Sarracenia species produce two types of adult or mature leaves. The adult leaf-type produced during the summer is ascidiform. Identification of Sarracenia species is essentially based on the characteristics of the ascidiform leaves. The second type of mature leaf, produced during the fall, is sword-shaped or ensiform and called phyllodia. Since phyllodia usually last throughout the cold season, they are also called winter leaves.
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