The parrot pitcher plant (scientific name Sarracenia psittacina) is one of America's unique species of carnivorous plants. Like other carnivorous plants, it has developed a mechanism to supplement the nutrient deficiencies in its environment by trapping and digesting insects. This is one of the only pitcher plants that survives in roadside ditches because it stays short enough to be missed by industrial mowers.
The parrot pitcher plant is native to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where it likes open acidic swamp lands, often near pine forests. One of their most famous habitats is Okefenokee Swamp. They grow in areas of poor quality soil, often in standing water. It is not uncommon for water levels to briefly submerge the plants. The plants are periodically burned during natural and controlled brush fires.
The plants are short at about 6 to 8 inches tall. The leaves are arranged in a rosette and are usually held at an angle or laying on the ground rather than erect like other species of pitcher plants. Some varieties do have erect pitchers. As old leaves die, they dry up and are left attached to the plant forming a bed of dead plant matter around the base.
The parrot pitcher plant flowers spikes arise from the center of the rosettes. They face downwards when they open, making them look weeping or slightly wilted. The flowers are reddish-purple and have five petals and five sepals with a white center.
The leaves of the parrot pitcher plant are designed to trap and digest insects. They are hollow and tube shaped with a narrow base and wider top. Rather than being open at the top like other pitcher plants, they have an inflated hood with a small hole facing downwards. The leaves are typically shades of dark red and green, but often are green with red veins. The top of the hood has small translucent patches. The shape of the hood resembles a parrot beak which is where this species gets its name.
The parrot pitcher plant does not rely on the pitfall method for trapping insects like other pitcher plants. It relies on what is called the lobster pot method. In other pitcher plants the top of the leaf is wide and relies on gravity to trap the insect, the parrot pitcher lures the insect into the small hole under the hood using sweet nectar. When the insect crawls inside, downward pointing hairs keep the insect moving to the ever narrowing base of the leaf rather than up to the exit. eventually the insect gets trapped and digested.