A pitcher plant refers to any carnivorous plant with leaves adapted for trapping insects. Pitcher plants use deep cavity prey-trapping mechanisms filled with liquid to trap and kill insects of all kinds. Known as “pitfall traps,” the pitcher plant’s leaves form a “pitcher” or trumpet-shaped enclosure to funnel in and drown unsuspecting prey.
Pitcher plants lure insects into their cavities by the sweet smells of nectar and vibrant colorations. The pitcher plant’s cavity is aligned with stiff, downward-pointing hairs that impede the plant’s prey from escaping. The pitcher or throat of the plant is a smooth, slide-like zone that sends the plant’s prey tumbling toward the liquid-filled pool at the bottom of the pitcher.
When an insect flies into the pitcher plant, it is trapped by the plant’s deflected bristles and engulfed in its liquid. The trapped insect ultimately drowns and is broken down by the pitcher plant’s enzymes and bacteria. Its prey, which typically include flying or crawling insects, are converted into a solution of peptides, amino acids and phosphates from which the pitcher plant obtains nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients.
Pitcher plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are found throughout the world. Some pitcher plants, such as American pitcher plants, resemble large rolled-up tubes, whereas other species of pitcher plants look like flowers, stems or generic leaves.