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Pitcher Plants Turning Red

10-29-13 pitcher plant2 158 Pitcher plant leaves are primarily green in the summer, tinged with red, but as summer turns into fall, many become deep red. Although this red color was thought to attract insects, it appears that this is not the case. The color change, according to research cited in the Journal of Ecology, is due to the level of phosphorus this carnivorous plant has received from its insect meals. There is a limited amount of phosphorus in a bog and plants living there acquire it in different ways. The pitcher plant acquires phosphorus from insects that it traps. It then utilizes the phosphorus to revitalize the (green) chlorophyll in its leaves for photosynthesis. The deep red color that the leaves turn in the fall indicates that the plant has not had a good meal in quite some time.

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9 responses

  1. Dianne and Ed

    Isn’t this a BEAUTIFUL specimen……..Take special notice of the downward facing hairs.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm

  2. What a great picture of the pitcher plant. Love it!

    Sent from my iPad

    http://www.moosemountainlodgetalestrailsandhistory.com

    October 29, 2013 at 12:55 pm

  3. Nature has such beauty!

    October 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm

  4. Excellent post. Enjoyed the research as well as the photo. Thanks!

    November 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

  5. K.P. McFarland

    Hi Mary,
    I’d like to see that reference. I am not sure I believe that. The red pigment in leaves is anthocyanin. This pigment allows leaves of many species to last longer and be protected in the fall giving the plant time to absorb carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus from the leaves before winter. Since this plant normally grows in nutrient poor systems (bogs), recovering C, N, and P would be really important. So I would suspect that autumn onset of red pigmentation would be more likely to be from this.

    Another aspect of this plant is the leaf morphology. Check out this article I wrote about that aspect if interested: http://northernwoodlands.org/outside_story/article/nitrogen-pollution-empties-the-pitcher-plant

    Best,

    Kent

    November 3, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    • Hi Kent,
      I have to admit, I only read that theory on one site, and questioned it for quite a while, but it goes to show that I really should never say anything I’m not 100% sure about. Thank you for keeping me honest! You wouldn’t know I consider myself a stickler for accuracy, would you? While I’m sure you’re right, I don’t know enough to know 1) how the red pigment allows the leaves to last longer and 2) I know that in the spring anthocyanin is supposed to be in young leaves to protect them from the sun, but what would pitcher plants leaves, at the end of summer, have to be protected from?

      November 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      • K.P. McFarland

        Mary,
        It could very well be true, but I am just guessing that is not the whole story. Anthrocyanin is always present in the leaves. It protects leaves from damaging UV light. You can see it when the leaves stop producing green chlorophyll. For things like red maple, it protects the leaves longer into the season after chlorophyll production is terminated and gives the tree more time to reabsorb essential nutrients in the leaves before they drop. Here’s a little blog I wrote about that that might interest you, http://onemeter2.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/turn-red-or-you-are-dead/.

        November 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

  6. K.P. McFarland

    It is also interesting to note that even the sphagnum moss is red in your photo.

    November 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

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