Pitcher Plants

Here and there in Camp Salmen's wilder, wetter grassy areas are clumps of the animal-eating Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia alata). While members of the Plant Kingdom are used to being bullied and eaten by animals, these green curiosities have turned the tables. They do this by making an interesting odor inside their tall pitcher and thus, lure anything with legs and wings that’s small, curious, hungry or greedy enough to crawl in. Once these creatures peer inside, they find a slippery slope and meet an almost certain death by drowning in the rainwater down on the bottom. The plant is then more than happy to absorb its carcass to gain valuable nutrition. 

Recent study has revealed just how ecologically and chemically complex this rainwater really is. It is home to copepods, wriggling larvae, mites, rotifers, nematodes, assorted bacteria and algae. These do the actual work of tearing apart the victim and processing them, sometimes by way of their own digestion, into chemistry the plant can use. 

Just as coyotes and their rodent prey are important components in the food web in which they operate, remove the predator and the rodents tend to overpopulate, so too are the denizens living in the water at in the bottom of the pitcher plant. Remove them, say with the indiscriminate use of insect killing pesticides, and the system might collapse and the plant will cease to thrive. This symbiotic relationship is a wonderful example of how a vital ecology can be conducted on a small scale and how susceptible it is to being upset. 

This last point can be critical to a plant that is quite persnickety about where it grows and what it will put up with (moisture, sun and shade, competition and soil chemistry are critical factors and the plant hates even a molecular hint of a herbicide in its presence). It is found in only in one part of one area at Camp Salmen, in the Pine Savannah, and in only three other parishes in Louisiana east of the Mississippi River including many locations in St. Tammany Parish. Fortunately, this region is also home for the plant’s native habitat – the wet, boggy parts of the ancient Longleaf Pine savannah, with its own, unique ecological assemblage of plants and animals. We are fortunate and proud to have some of its representatives in our park.

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