The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 11.5
- courtesy of -
The International Carnivorous Plant Society

Q: About Sarracenia jonesii, the mountain pitcher plant

A: Sarracenia jonesii looks very much like a large version of Sarracenia rubra subsp. rubra; while the pitchers of S. rubra are about 26-45 cm tall and 1.5-2.3 cm across at the mouth, the pitchers of S. jonesii are 43-61 cm tall and 2.8-4.2 cm across at the mouth. Don Schnell always makes a point of noting that the pitcher tube for S. jonesii expands slightly in the upper third of the pitcher, and then constricts just at the mouth. However, this character, like the pitcher sizes I quote above, is variable and depends upon how well the plants are growing. I freely admit that a few times I have been asked if such-and-such cultivated plant is really S. jonesii or just S. rubra, and I could not be sure!

Despite Wherry's observations to the contrary, I can detect a raspberry scent in the little red flowers of S. jonesii.

An anthocyanin-free form exists, which I treat with the name Sarracenia jonesii f. viridescens.

States: North Carolina, South Carolina.
Found only at about ten sites in the mountains of North Carolina (Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania Counties) and South Carolina (Pickens County). It may also be encountered at a few more artificial plantings.

Sarracenia jonesii is extremely endangered; the few populations that remain are stressed by changes in water hydrology, in particular decreased water flow and degrading water quality. This plant is listed as "Endangered" within the USA and is on CITES Appendix I; read the appropriate FAQ entries on these laws to understand the ramifications of these listings if you want to buy, sell, or trade these plants. Poaching has also been a problem. This poaching has made it very difficult for carnivorous plant enthusiasts to visit S. jonesii in the wild, because conservation workers are extremely reluctant to reveal location data. For example, there is an all-green (anthocyanin-free) variant of Sarracenia jonesii that no longer occurs in the wild because poachers have stolen every plant. The anthocyanin-free plant is commonly cultivated, but it is interesting to reflect that every specimen in cultivation is derived from illegally collected stock. Do such plants ever become ethically clean? I wonder...

Something I really like about Sarracenia jonesii is that it sometimes occurs at sites called "cataract bogs." These are places where the surface water sheets out over huge, sloping granite slabs. These are exceedingly treacherous water slides---I am sure they would be huge fun to slide down the bare rock surfaces, except that you would die in a crumpled, broken heap among the boulders at the bottom of the slide. The plants cling to the membrane of soil, detritus, and Sphagnum that forms an apron at the edges of these slides, or in little clumps here and there in the middle of the slide where roots can find a crack to grip. The sites are as beautiful as they are dangerous.

So now, we come to the controversy of the name for this plant. When it was first described in 1929, Wherry called it Sarracenia jonesii (the usage I have adopted). Bell thought that Wherry made a mistake in judgement, and in 1949 he reduced this plant's status to that of a mere form, i.e. Sarracenia rubra f. jonesii. McDaniel, in 1971, felt that none of the Sarracenia rubra-complex plants (including S. jonesii and S. alabamensis) should be given any separate status of any kind, and that S. rubra should just be considered a single polymorphic species. In 1972, Wherry revised his published opinion, establishing the plant as a subspecies, i.e. Sarracenia rubra subsp. jonesii. Workers remain divided on this issue even today, and are roughly in two camps. Case & Case are the iconic leaders of those who prefer using the species designation (S. jonesii), while Don Schnell is the grand poobah of those who prefers the usage S. rubra subsp. jonesii.

So, you might ask what is the "correct" usage. The simple answer is that whichever of the names you use is your own decision. The question on whether this plant is a separate species or a S. rubra subspecies cannot be easily determined by any test or geographical survey---it is ultimately a matter of opinion and a judgement call. And there, my friend, is the core of the controversy. I prefer the separate species status because, when I am looking at a native, healthy population of S. jonesii, they just look different enough from slender little pinstriped S. rubra to convince me they are separate species.

In the end, I do not care a rat's bum about this point---my interest is in the conservation. If you ever get to see a cataract bog, with water sliding over the surface of the rock and Sarracenia clinging for life on its edges, I think you would agree that whatever the hell you want to call them, we should not kill these organisms by our own stupidity and carelessness.

Page citations: Case, F.W., and Case, R.B. 1976; CITES, 1992; Determann, R. 2000, private communication; McDaniel, S. 1971; McPherson & Schnell 2011; Murdock, N. 2000, private communication; Rice, B.A. 2001a, 2006a, 2012a; Schnell, D.E. 2002a; US Fish & Wildlife Service, 1973; Wherry, E.T. 1929.

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Revised: February 2012
©Barry Rice, 2005