July 24, 2012

those native pitcher plants....

[Note: This is a local interest post unrelated to gesneriads. LOTS of links and photos below.]

If I needed a reminder, I got one. In the form of GIANT RED pitcher sculptures in front of the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Sarracenia sculpture

I started writing this post months ago, but it sat in draft form while I gradually added information.  It's now a very long post, hence the "Note" up top.

What we -- gesneriad enthusiasts in the Washington, DC area -- don't get to do is write about native gesneriads. Why? Because there are no gesneriads native to this area.  If you go as far as Hawai'i, you might find a few Cyrtandra species, and of course there are some gesneriads in Puerto Rico.

We've got some spectacular natives, though. For example, there's a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) that grows throughout a huge range including the DC area.  There's also a passion flower that's native around here: Passiflora incarnata.

And then there are carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia purpurea and friends. Sarracenia blooming season is around May in this area, and you might have seen a few at local botanical places.  The U.S. National Arboretum reportedly has Sarracenia leucophylla, Sarracenia elata, and Sarracenia 'Dixie Lace', as well as Dioneae muscipula (Venus Fly Trap). Here's a photo of a planter several years ago at the Arboretum:


But let's get back to why I started writing this post. Just before blooming season, Kenneth Moore and I went to visit Meadowview Biological Research Center. The headquarters is a little house outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia, with a small greenhouse and some propagation beds. Their activities, though, include conservation efforts and habitat restoration in a nearby area as well as the Joseph Pines Preserve south of Richmond, Virginia.

Wetland conservation and restoration runs counter to the short and simple "plant more trees" message we so often hear: wetlands are threatened by encroaching trees, as well as drainage. Trees bring shade, nutrients, and less water - all detrimental to a wetland ecosystem. So what does wetland restoration entail? Often, it means cutting down trees, blocking drainage ditches, and controlled burning.  On the slopes behind Meadowview, restoration of spring seeps by filling drainage ditches and removing trees is taking place:


In his book Pitcher Plants of the Americas (The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 2007), Stewart McPherson identifies three main causes of habitat loss: artificial drainage (for agriculture); fire suppression; and commercial tree farming. In addition: urban expansion, highway construction, and fertilizer/pesticides/chemicals. Both this book and another on my shelf, Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada by Donald E. Schnell (2d ed. Timber Press, 2002) discuss habitat loss and conservation issues in detail, although the bulk of both books is information on various species.

I wanted to show you in situ photographs of S. purpurea, but my search found them growing wild in the Lake District -- yes, that's across the pond in the northwest of England, and no, it's not native there. Sarracenia2 on Flickr has a set of in situ photographs of various species, like this field of S. leucophylla in Alabama.

Back to Meadowview, here are some photos of propagation:

Sarracenia propagation

and flower buds in the outside beds:

Sarracenia beds

Sarracenia is being introduced back into the restored spring seeps behind the house:

Sarracenia planted on the slopes

and here are some in flower on the bank:

Sarracenia on the bank

For more information on Sarracenia (and other carnivorous plants), check out the two books above. On growing these plants at home, there's an excellent short article on Plant Delights' website, as well as a section in Peter D'Amato's book, The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (Ten Speed Press 1998).