I found the strange piece of vegetation pictured below at the Orto Botanico that we visited in Florence. The picture is actually the flower of a pitcher plant. This flower is unlike that of most other plants because it lacks the bright colors of other flowers. Instead, the pitcher plant’s flower is the same green as its stem. Despite its unique appearance, the flower of the pitcher plant serves the same purpose as other flowers: reproduction. In fact, a collection of fallen anthers is visible in the bottom of the flower. The appearance of the pitcher and flower lead me to believe that this pitcher plant is of the genus Sarracenia. To my novice eye, most species of pitcher plants in this genus look pretty much the same, so I am not entirely sure of the species. The most likely candidates are Sarracenia jonesii (Jones’ pitcher plant), Sarracenia oreopila (the green pitcher plant), or Sarracenia psittacina (the parrot pitcher plant).
Regardless of the exact species of pitcher plant, members of the Sarracenia genus function in the same manner. The plant lures insects into its trap with a combination of colors, scent, and sweet nectar. Once lured to the mouth of the pitcher, the hapless insect loses its footing on the slippery surface and falls into the pitcher. Downward-pointing hairs allow the insect to progress further down the pitcher but prevent it from returning to the pitcher’s mouth. The insect eventually reaches the bottom of the pitcher, where it drowns in a pool of digestive enzymes. Its useful nutrients are then absorbed by the pitcher plant. Yum.