Why are the Pitchers in Pitcher Plants Brown and Crispy?

Pitcher Plants
Pitcher Plants (Source: Pixabay)

As a graduate of Botany, I have always been deeply fascinated by Pitcher plants.

So, if you have been looking for answers to why your Pitchers in Pitcher plants have turned brown and crisp, you came to the right place.

Pitchers on the Pitcher plant turn brown and crispy mainly due to inadequate watering and low humidity. In addition, contaminated water may also cause the Pitcher plant to turn brown. When the Pitchers are brown and crispy, snip them off at the end of the leaf.

Pitcher Plants
Pitcher Plants (Source: Tenor)

So, as you can see, there is way more than a singular factor that dictates whether your Pitcher turns brown or not.

Furthermore, Pitcher plants require not just love but also technical knowledge to be taken proper care of.

We will discuss the causes of your Pitcher plant turning brown and crispy in great detail.

Is it Normal for the Pitchers in Pitcher Plants to Turn Brown and Crispy?

A simple answer is yes; it is perfectly normal for your Pitcher plant to turn brown and crispy.

As the plant grows older, the individual Pitchers that first bloom start turning yellow, brown, and eventually die off.

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant (Source: Pixabay)

This is done to replace the more senior Pitchers with newer and younger ones.

However, keep in mind that the old and dying Pitcher plants aren’t replaced before and during the fall season.

Instead, during fall, Pitcher plants become dormant and undergo their version of hibernation. New Pitchers aren’t formed during this season, and it is perfectly normal.

However, the old and collapsed Pitchers are replaced relatively quickly if the plant is healthy in any other season.

What Causes Pitcher on Pitcher Plant to Turn Brown and Crispy?

As I mentioned earlier, the Pitcher of a Pitcher plant turns brown and crispy because it has reached the end of its natural life. However, that may not always be the case.

Browning and drying are also caused due to inadequate or over watering, the placement of the plant not being suitable, the substrate not being appropriate, or problems inside the Pitcher.

Let’s take a closer look at the causes.

1. Improper Watering Schedule

Pitcher plants are found naturally in boggy land. However, the catch is unlike other carnivorous plants; Pitchers don’t do particularly well in stagnant water.

Browning and crisping of pitchers can be caused due to both spectra of watering: over and under-watering.

Look for the following symptoms to know precisely if your plant is affected due to overwatering or underwatering.

  • Overwatering: Oedema, raised bumps on leaves, rotten crown
  • Underwatering: Surface feels dry, leaf curling and wilting
Pitcher plant brown and crsipy
Pitcher plant brown and crsipy (Source: Reddit)

The air pockets are blocked when the plant is overwatered, and the plant cannot breathe.

Similarly, the plant cannot get enough water to flourish when underwatered. When continuously kept in wet and soggy soil, the root quickly rots.

Methods like “Water tray” are quite widely practiced for Carnivorous plants. However, as mentioned earlier, Nepenthes doesn’t tolerate standing water like other carnivorous plants.

Another factor that needs attention is the mineral content in water. Pitcher plants are susceptible to pollutants found in tap water; thus we highly advise against using it.

Remember to keep it moist but not soggy and use distilled or rainwater.

Water to plant's heart content
Water to plant’s heart content (Source: Tenor)

Tips to Water Pitcher Plant Properly

  • Always be selective while watering the Pitcher plant. If you have access to rainwater, use that. If not, use distilled water or reverse osmosis water.
  • To remove minerals from the soil, water deeply with distilled water every two to three weeks.
  • Use top to bottom approach to water this plant. Avoid getting too much water inside the Pitcher.
  • Fill the bottom tray with an inch of water and water again only after the tray is empty.
  • Water the plant every 2-4 days or when the soil is dry.
  • Do not avoid watering the plant in winter completely. Water the plant less during its dormancy.

2. Low Humidity

When most people think of Pitcher plants, they think of Nepenthes, a Highland Tropical Pitcher plants genus.

Depending upon the species, the humidity requirements may vary, but Pitcher plants require medium to high humidity throughout the year on a broad scale.

Even though Pitcher plants (and other carnivorous plants) can handle dry air, they typically cease producing pitchers when the humidity falls below 50%.

The humidity levels must be at least 60% or higher for Pitcher plants.

Stomata Opening and Closing
Stomata Opening and Closing (Source: ResearchGate)

Plants require more water when the relative humidity is low. Plants seal their stomata, which are small holes on their leaves, to prevent excessive moisture loss during dry conditions.

If the stomata are closed for a more extended period, the plant won’t be able to take in CO₂, cutting off the plant respiration.

Tips to Maintain Ideal Humidity

  • Occasionally mist the plant and let the leaves dry on their own.
  • Invest in a room humidifier to keep the humidity of the Pitcher plant in check.
  • Placing a wet pebble or gravel tray near the plant can boost humidity.
  • You can place your plant in Terrariums to boost the humidity level.
  • Avoid air-conditioned rooms, as they are far too dry for Pitcher plants.

3. Wrong Potting Soil

Pitcher plants come from areas with very acidic soil. Therefore, when grown in gardens or indoors, we need to replicate that as close as possible.

Using a very rich soil mixture in nutrients causes browning and crisping of Pitchers. These plants take most of the nutrients from insects they consume.

Likewise, the soil shouldn’t retain water too much but should be mildly absorbent.

That is the most important thing when looking at the substrate. The soil must be slightly acidic, generally 3 – 5 on the pH scale, and if consistent, that can provide proper drainage.

Soil mixed with Organic Material
Soil mix for Pitchers (Source: Pexels)

The perfect soil mix for Pitcher plants are:

  • Two-part perlite to one part sphagnum moss.
  • Two-part milled bark to one part perlite and one part horticultural grit.
  • One part sharp sand or perlite to one part peat moss.

4. Inadequate Sunlight

Placement of your Pitcher plant also plays a role in the browning and crisping Pitchers.

You can keep your Pitcher plant wherever you wish to as long as the necessary light and temperature conditions are met.

Pitcher plants require full to partial sunlight. However, the sunlight requirement depends on the species.

But to be on the safer side, place your plant in medium light to avoid burning and turning brown.

Pitcher on the Pitcher plant brown and crispy
Pitcher on the Pitcher plant brown and crispy (Source: Houzz)

Tips to Maintain Adequate Light

  • Place your plant in a north or east-facing window. If you want to place it in west or south-facing window, make sure you don’t let the plant face direct light.
  • These plants live in nearly 100000 lux lights in their natural habitat. Try to emulate that if you are planning to use grow lights. If not possible, let the lights be of at least 15000 lux.
  • You can use fluorescent light of minimum 40 watts. Place the light 12 inches above the plant.

You may be interested in reading, What Light Color is Best for the Plant’s Growth?

5. Temperature Extremities

Another reason for Pitchers on the Pitcher plant to get brown and crispy is sudden changes in temperature.

Pitcher plants thrive in warm environments, so set the temperature in your indoor growing room to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, temperature requirement varies according to the species.

For example, Nepenthes which is a Highland Tropical Pitcher plant, thrives in 75°F to 79°F temperature during the day and 53°F to 61°F during the night.

On the other hand, Lowland Pitcher species prefer temperatures of 85°F (30°C) during the day and 70°F (20°C) at night.

Lowland plants are more tolerant of warmer temperatures and are usually easier to grow. Other species can tolerate slightly higher temperatures during the day and the night.

Pitchers on the Pitcher plant may turn brown and crisp if the temperature drops below 60 degrees.

Temperature stress in plant
Temperature stress in a plant (Source: Science Direct)

“Extreme temperature can impact the plant’s photosynthesis and transpiration abilities” says an article by cropwatch.unl.edu.

Tips to Maintain Ideal Temperature

  • Try to increase the humidity around the plant when the surrounding temperature is too hot to handle.
  • Use heat pads and heat blankets around the plant when the temperature drops during winter.
  • Keep the plant away from electric heaters, heating radiators, and air conditioners.
  • Check the soil for dryness as the temperature rises over 90°F and increase the frequency of watering.

6. Excessive Use of Fertilizer

Pitcher plants are carnivorous or, more precisely, insectivorous plants. They get most of their nutrient requirements from the carcass of the insects they trap.

It is for this reason that they thrive even on poor-nutrient soil. Having high nutrient soil damages the Pitchers.

Fertilizer for the plant (Source: Pexels)

Fertilizers will put these plants under stress, and they can show stress by turning brown and crispy.

The use of fertilizers, thus, is strictly a no-no. In addition, the anatomy of the roots of Pitcher plants isn’t made for nutrient absorption. Therefore, using fertilizers causes browning of Pitchers.

According to an article by Harvard Forest, if the plant is fed with too much nitrogen, the plant produces fewer pitcher-shaped leaves and more flat-shaped leaves for photosynthesis.

Another typical damage done by fertilizer is that if too many nutrients are provided to this plant, the plant’s foliage takes up all the nutrients, and the growth of the root is halted.

Pitcher plants are used to less-nutrient soil, so if you fertilizer them, you may kill them.

Also, read about “10 Best Fertilizers for Indoor Herbs

7. The Trap has no Fluid

This is a commonly overlooked part. The Pitchers should also always have water in them.

Think of the Pitcher as the human stomach. It contains a bacterial colony that helps digest proteins from dead insects.

FACT: Ecologial Society of America says that Larvae of mosquito Wyeomyia smithii and of midge Metriocnemus knabi are found only inside the Pitcher plant.

This bacterial colony needs water to remain healthy. Hence, in the absence of water inside the Pitcher, it starts turning brown due to a lack of nutrients.

Pitcher plant
Pitcher plant (Source: academic.oup.com)

In the absence of fluid, the prey caught may take too much time to digest. Thus, barring it from getting the required nutrients.

Sometimes when the trap has caught something too big to digest, it cannot get the required nutrients.

If the whole body isn’t digested, it creates trouble in the absorption of nutrients from the inner lining of the Pitcher.

The prey may rot in the Pitcher, causing a foul smell or, even worse, the Pitcher to rot and turn brown and crispy.

What to do if the Pitchers in the Pitcher Plant Turn Brown and Crispy?

It is vital to notice which part of the plant is turning brown. A complete yellowing or browning of the plant is an alarming sign.

Pitchers that have turned more than 50% brown and dried out are no longer useful and should be cut off.

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant (Source: Tenor)

However, if just the Pitcher is turning brown, there are different things you can do.

  • You should just let the brown pitchers hang as it is. If the cause is natural, the trap won’t cause much damage.
  • Or, if you do not want your plant to look untidy, you can isolate the brown parts and cut them off.
  • If you see new pitchers taking form, you can cut off the entire trap from the plant. But do it carefully.

Note: Before making cuts on the Pitcher plants, clean and sanitize clippers or scissors. Wipe the blades with denatured alcohol-soaked cotton or rags.

Also watch the video for complete care tips,

Conclusion

Caring for a Pitcher plant may sound intimidating if you breeze past countless guidelines on the internet.

But to be honest, a Pitcher plant is closer to your typical indoor plants than you can imagine. We must ensure that the plants get as close to their natural habitat possible.

Pitcher plants come from native American plants that grow in nutrient-less, boggy soil.

Ensuring that the soil hydration, air humidity, and environmental stress are closer to its natural habitat can guarantee a phenomenal Pitcher plant for your indoor or outdoor garden.

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