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Sarracenia leucophylla by Don Herring. Image may be subject to copyright.
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Sarracenia leucophylla Raf.

Whitetop Pitcherplant

Federal Protection: No US federal protection

State Protection: Endangered

Global Rank: G3

State Rank: S1

SWAP High Priority Species (SGCN): Yes

Element Occurrences (EOs) in Georgia: 8

Habitat Summary for element in Georgia: Wet savannas, pitcherplant bogs


Description

Perennial herb with leaves modified into erect, tubular pitchers. Pitchers are 10 - 39 inches (25 - 100 cm) tall, narrow at the base and widening to an opening partially covered by a nearly erect hood with ruffled margins; the lower part of the pitcher is green, the hood and upper part of pitcher are white with red veins; the pitchers do not overwinter. After flowering and when stressed, plants produce many green, flat, narrow, erect, non-pitcher leaves (phyllodes), 6 - 8 inches (15 - 20) tall. The  flower stalk is 12 - 31 inches (30 - 80 cm) tall and leafless. The flower is solitary with 5 drooping, maroon petals 1.5 - 2.8 inches (4 - 7 cm) long, 5 maroon sepals, and a reddish, umbrella-shaped style disk in the center of the flower. Petals fall soon after flowering, but sepals and style disk persist on the plant as the fruit, a round, warty capsule up to 0.8 inch (2 cm) wide, develops.

Similar Species

No other pitcherplant species resembles Whitetop Pitcherplant. Hybrids with other species do occur, but the (at least) partially white upper pitcher or ruffled hood are usually still present in the hybrids.

Related Rare Species

Eleven types of Pitcherplant occur in Georgia, including 8 species, 4 varieties, and 2 subspecies. All are considered rare, vulnerable, threatened or endangered.

Sarracenia flava (Yellow Flytrap), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=18445

Sarracenia leucophylla (Whitetop Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=18829

Sarracenia minor var. minor (Hooded Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=33691

Sarracenia minor var. okefenokeensis (Okefenokee Giant Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=33687

Sarracenia oreophila (Green Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=16880

Sarracenia psittacina (Parrot Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=15362

Sarracenia purpurea var. montana (Mountain Purple Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=34032

Sarracenia purpurea var. venosa (Southern Purple Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=21623

Sarracenia rosea (Rose Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=34058

Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis (Gulf Sweet Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=18435

Sarracenia rubra ssp. rubra (Sweet Pitcherplant), https://www.georgiabiodiversity.a2hosted.com/natels/profile?es_id=19129

Habitat

Bogs, wet savannas, sunny openings in red maple-black gum swamps, sphagnum mats along streams clearings through these habitats.

Life History

Pitcherplants capture and digest insects and other small animals in their pitchers. Nectar is produced by glands around the top of the pitcher, luring animals to the opening with its sweet smell. Stiff, down-pointing hairs line the pitcher, encouraging the animals to slide in and impeding their escape. Enzymes dissolved in water in the base of the pitcher digest the animals, making nutrients, particularly nitrogen, available for absorption by the plant. (Soils of bogs and other permanently saturated wetlands are typically low in nitrogen.) Butterflies have been seen sipping nectar from White-top pitchers without getting caught in the trap. They perch on the lip of the pitchers and, using their long probosci, probe the inner surface of the pitchers where tiny glands produce a sweet, honey-smelling nectar.

Pitcherplants reproduce sexually and also vegetatively by spread of underground stems (rhizomes). The unusual shape of the flowers, with their drooping petals and umbrella-like style disk, promotes cross-pollination by insects. When an insect, usually a bee, pushes its way past the petals to reach nectar on the interior of the flower, it brushes against one of the stigmas, which are at the pointed tips of the “umbrella,” and deposits pollen gathered from a previously visited flower. Once inside the petals, it picks up pollen from the anthers and from the inner surface of the umbrella and then carries it to the next visited flower, usually avoiding the stigmas as it leaves the flower.

Since it would be a disadvantage to the plant to “eat” its pollinators, many pitcherplants, such as White-top Pitcherplant, produce flowers before their pitchers are well developed. Others hold their flowers high above the pitchers on long stalks. Pitcherplants are usually 4 - 5 years old before they flower and may live to be 20 - 30 years old.

Survey Recommendations

White-top Pitcherplants bloom from March–April, before the leaves mature, but the pitchers are conspicuous throughout the summer and fall.

Range

Coastal Plain of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Threats

Conversion of habitat to pine plantations and agriculture. Ditching, draining, and mechanical clearing of wetlands. Fire suppression, canopy closure, and encroachment by woody plants. Off-road vehicle use. Plant poaching. Digging by wild hogs.

Georgia Conservation Status

Sarracenia leucophylla is ranked S1 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, indicating that it is critically imperiled in the state. It is listed as Endangered by the State of Georgia. Once known from eight populations in four Georgia counties, only two populations in one county are currently extant. Both are in private ownership.

Conservation Management Recommendations

Avoid ditching and draining wetlands. Avoid logging, mechanical clearing, and other soil-compacting activity. Apply prescribed fire every 2 - 3 years or hand-clear to control woody vegetation. Limit access to prevent poaching and off-road vehicle traffic. Eradicate wild hogs.

References

Botanical Society of America. 2008. Sarracenia - the Pitcher Plants. https://botany.org/Carnivorous_Plants/Sarracenia.php

Ceska, J. 2001. Leucos lost and found. Georgia Botanical Society, BotSoc News 75(7): 1-2.

Chafin, L.G. 2007. Field guide to the rare plants of Georgia. State Botanical Garden of Georgia and University of Georgia Press, Athens.

GADNR. 2020. Element occurrence records for Sarracenia leucophylla. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Social Circle, Georgia.

Godfrey, R.K. and J.W. Wooten. 1981. Aquatic and wetland plants of southeastern United States, Vol. 2, dicotyledons. University of Georgia Press, Athens.

International Carnivorous Plant Society. 2008. Carnivorous plant FAQ. http://www.sarracenia.com/faq/faq5530.html

McDaniel, S. 1971. The genus Sarracenia. Bulletin 9, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida.

Mellichamp, T.L. and F.W. Case. 2009. Sarracenia leucophylla species account. Flora of North America, Vol. 8. http://beta.floranorthamerica.org/Sarracenia_leucophylla

Minno, M.C. and J.R. Slotten. 1998. Butterflies feed at white-topped pitcher plants. Palmetto 18(3): 9.

NatureServe. 2020. Sarracenia leucophylla species account. NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia.

Patrick, T.S., J.R. Allison, and G.A. Krakow. 1995. Protected plants of Georgia. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage Program, Social Circle.

Schnell, D.E. 2002. Carnivorous plants of the United States and Canada, 2nd edition. Timber Press, Inc. Portland, Oregon.

Wang, Z-F., J.L. Hamrick, and M.J.W. Godt. 2004. High genetic diversity in Sarracenia leucophylla (Sarraceniaceae), a carnivorous wetland herb. Journal of Heredity 95(3): 234-243.

Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-Atlantic States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm

Authors of Account

Linda G. Chafin

Date Compiled or Updated

L.Chafin, Aug. 2008: original account

D.Weiler, Feb. 2010: added pictures

L. Chafin, May 2020: updated original account.

Sarracenia leucophylla, by Alan Cressler. Image may be subject to copyright.
Sarracenia leucophylla by Don Herring. Image may be subject to copyright.
Sarracenia leucophylla, illustration by Jean C. Putnam Hancock. Image may be subject to copyright.