Pitcher Plant Extravaganza!

The pitcher plants are putting on a good show for The Nature Conservancy! This Low Mountain Seepage Bog in western North Carolina is home to one of only two North Carolina populations of the green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila). This type of bog is an open, shrub or herb-dominated wetland with acidic soils, often with disjunct populations of species characteristic of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. This bog sits at the base of a high knob, where groundwater flowing downward reaches a break in slope and seeps to the surface. This groundwater is the primary source of water for the wetland, which like most mountain bogs is technically a fen.

The green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila)
The green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila)

The carnivorous green pitcher plant used to be much more common throughout the Piedmont, but development and draining of wetlands, fire suppression, and other factors have driven the species to near extinction. An important feature of this site that has allowed the species to continue to thrive here is a thick layer of clay soil near the surface. This clay prevents water from soaking quickly back into the ground, and it continues to hold moisture even when the water table drops in summer and fall, giving the plants a sort of water savings account to get them through drier times.

Pitcher plants threatened by maple encroachment. Hang in there!
Pitcher plants threatened by maple encroachment. Hang in there!

Pitcher plants require full sun for optimal growth and seed germination, and most mountain bogs are experiencing an encroachment of trees and shrubs due to a lack of disturbance. A key reason that this site supports green pitcher plants to this day is because the previous landowner burned it annually from 1908-1972, which prevented these woody plants from taking over. Beyond just creating shade, woody species use a lot of water. Monitoring wells at the site have demonstrated that areas with woody encroachment have a lower water table. This makes life difficult for pitcher plants.

Malcolm Hodges of TNC Georgia enjoying the show at this year’s March burn.
Malcolm Hodges of TNC Georgia enjoying the show at this year’s March burn.

Under TNC management, the site has been burned every 2-3 years since 1992. In addition to burning, TNC manually and chemically controls woody vegetation to prevent encroachment, and the cut stems help provide fuel continuity for burns. A burn was completed this year in late March with the help of the Georgia chapter of TNC and Mountain True. Burning conditions were excellent, and there was enough dry grass in the meadow portion of the preserve that we were able to forego drip torches and just set it off with our lighters.

Fast forward to May; note the dead woody stems among the pitcher plants, the results of this year’s burn.
Fast forward to May; note the dead woody stems among the pitcher plants, the results of this year’s burn.

Thanks, everyone! These happy pitcher plants are the reward for your hard work.

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Despite producing these large, awesome flowers, the green pitcher plant reproduces mostly asexually through its rhizomes.
Despite producing these large, awesome flowers, the green pitcher plant reproduces mostly asexually through its rhizomes.

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An insect tempting fate
An insect tempting fate
The forest edges around the wetland also support lush plant life.
The forest edges around the wetland also support lush plant life.

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