A pitcher plant isn’t for gardeners who like to take home an interesting plant, set it on the windowsill, and hope they remember to water it now and then. It’s a plant with specific needs, and it lets you know with alarming clarity when those needs aren’t being met. This article explains what to do when you find your pitcher plant’s leaves turning black.
Why are Pitcher Plants Turning Black?
When pitcher plant (Nepenthes) leaves are turning black, it is usually the result of shock or a sign that the plant is going into dormancy. Something as simple as a change in conditions the plant experiences when you bring it home from the nursery can cause shock. A pitcher plant can also go into shock when any of its needs aren’t being met. Here are some things to check:
- Is it getting the right amount of light? Pitcher plants need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. It will thrive outdoors in hot, humid climates.
- Does it have enough water? Pitcher plants like to be thoroughly wet. Set the pot in a shallow dish and keep an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm.) of water in the dish at all times. Not just any water will do. Pitcher plants need filtered or purified water.
- Are you feeding your plant? If you set it outside, it will attract its own food. Indoors, you’ll have to drop a cricket or mealworm down the pitcher from time to time. You can buy crickets and mealworms at a bait shop or a pet store.
Here’s another tip to help you avoid shock (and black pitcher plant leaves): leave it in the pot it came in. It will be fine for a few years. Transplanting a pitcher plant into a new pot is an advanced skill, and you should take lots of time to get to know your plant first. If the pot is unattractive, set it inside another pot.
Dormant Pitcher Plant with Black Leaves
You may occasionally see dormant pitcher plants with black leaves, but it’s even more likely that the plant is dead. Pitcher plants go dormant in the fall. First, the pitcher turns brown and may die back to the ground. You may also lose some leaves. It’s hard for beginners to tell the difference between dormancy and death, but remember that tinkering with the plant and sticking your finger into the soil to feel the roots can kill it. It’s best to just wait it out and see if the plant comes back.
You can help your plant survive dormancy by keeping it cool and giving it lots of sunlight. You can leave it outdoors if your winters are mild—just remember to bring it in if a frost threatens. Providing cool, well-lit conditions in cold climates is more of a challenge, but if all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with flowers in the spring.