Our plant is a stout little carnivore of Canada’s peat-quilted swamps and jelly-earthed bogs. Canada's most familiar pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, is named after Dr. Michel Sarrasin de L’Étang (1659-1734), Canada’s first professional botanist, in the sense that he was the first person to collect and catalogue plant specimens in a systematic mode. Sarrasin came out to La Nouvelle France in 1685 to become surgeon-major to the French colonial army, became an avid collector of the flora and fauna he found in New France and throughout his life in the new world shipped hundreds of specimens back to the Académie royale des sciences in Paris. Sarrasin contributed many articles to the publications of various learned societies, among others a “Description of the Castor (the beaver),” in the memoirs of the Academy of Sciences (1704); “A Letter on the Mineral Waters of Cap de la Magdeleine,” in the memoirs of Trevoux (1736);” and a “Description of the Water or Musk Rat of America.” To honour his work, the Academy named the pitcher genus Sarracenia.
Of course, there are mixed blessings issuant from scientific nomenclatorial commemoration. Sarrasin may have his pitcher plant, but former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney must make do with a small shit-eating fly whose correct zoological name is Phthitia mulroneyi, a species collected beside Meech Lake in 1992. Perhaps the previous sentence should read: Mulroney must make doo-doo. Perhaps he did while in office. Turning to a cartoonist I like, one finds Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” remembered in the species name, Strigiphilus garylarsoni. It is a louse found on owls.
Sarracenia purpurea (Botanical Latin, purple, referring to the colour of the mottled pitchers) is the floral emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador. Our pitcher plant is the stout little carnivore of Canada’s peat-quilted swamps and jelly-earthed bogs, where it traps insects in leaves modified to hold water, hence pitcher plant. The slippery sides of each pitcher are lined with downward-pointing hairs that help insects slide into the pitcher but prevent them from escaping. Trapped without mercy, they struggle, fall exhausted back into the water, and drown in the liquid to which the plant has added a flesh-dissolving enzyme. The decomposed bodies of the insects provide essential nutrients for the pitcher plant.
Other common Canadian names of the pitcher plant are Indian Cup, Petits Cochons ‘piggywigs,’ and Whip-poor-will’s boots.
Hybridizers have been at work on some pitcher plant species and have produced exotic— indeed, startling—pitcher colours and markings. I have sprinkled a few examples of these Sarracenia species throughout this page. Among the species shown in the small photographs are hybrids of Sarracenia alata, Sarracenia leucophylla, Sarracenia flava, and Sarracenia minor x oreophila.
© copyright 2013 William Gordon Casselman
Any comments, questions, additional word lore or book orders?
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about the origin of garden words.
all about words