Pretty, sweet and surprisingly diabolical, pitcher plants are nature’s own tricky kind of fly trap, with a hearty diet of insects and the occasional small frog or lizard. Almost as intriguing as the carnivorous flora’s eating habits are their bog habitats, which are nutrient poor and literally fueled by fire. Learn more about the most intimidating vegetation of our local ecosystem.
SWEET HOME Out of the eight southeastern species of pitcher plants, seven are native to Alabama, six of which can be found in Mobile and/or Baldwin counties.
JEEPERS CREEPERS Spiders, praying mantises and other insects will hang out around the tops of pitcher plants like vultures, waiting to intercept insects before they land.
DOWN THE HATCH The smooth, waxy “lip” of the tubular part of the plant acts much like a slippery slide, as landed insects glide helplessly into the plant, unable to gain traction.
WHAT'S THAT SMELL? Bugs and small animals are attracted to the coloration and nectar of pitcher plants, as well as the odor of decomposing matter already trapped inside.
MAKE IT WORK Pitcher plants evolved into carnivores as a way to adapt to the lack of nutrients (especially nitrogen) in their native habitat’s acidic soil.
BREAK IT DOWN Eventually, a puddle of liquid enzymes disintegrate the organism, allowing the pitcher plant to absorb its nutrients while leaving behind harder parts like wings and legs.
SIT-DOWN DINNER Stealthier frogs have been known to plop down at the bottom of large pitcher plants and wait patiently for food to slide to them.
GETTING BOGGED DOWN Angela Underwood, natural resource planner at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, describes the pitcher plant’s
native bog habitat.
- Bogs depend on fire in order to survive. “Burnings open up the area and keep away trees and shrubs that would shade out the bog plants and take up all the moisture, ” she says. Before land development, burns occurred naturally, but experts now have to mimic them through controlled prescribed burns. “Typically, you want to burn every two to three years to give the bog time to recover and flower and produce seeds.”
- “Carnivorous bogs exhibit incredibly diverse plant life, ” Underwood says. “Studies have shown that there’s greater diversity in these small bogs than anywhere on earth.” In fact, many of the animal and plant life in these areas cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.
- Agriculture, roads and construction have made bog habitats increasingly rare. Along the Gulf Coast, more than 90 percent of bog land has been seriously damaged or destroyed, all the more reason to visit local gems like the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog. But while you’re there, “We ask that people go out and enjoy these areas, but don’t dig up or pick the plants, ” Underwood says.
>> To see these hungry plants for yourself and support the preservation of their diminishing habitats, take a trip to the Weeks Bay Reserve in Fairhope, Splinter Hill Bog near Perdido or one of several smaller nature reserves in the area.
text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer