No digestive juices?! Pray tell, how does Sarracenia purpurea practice carnivory without the ability to dissolve soft tissues of captured prey? Great question. The leaves of S. purpurea collect rainwater. Without digestive enzymes, water-filled pitchers play friendly host to numerous microorganisms that aid in the digestion process. Mosquito larva, bacteria, and even tadpoles will eat prey that falls in and drowns. Out the opposite end of these symbiotic critters comes poop, rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. S. purpurea doesn’t have the ability to digest prey, but pre-digested prey can be absorbed.
There are also theories that the skyward-pointing open mouths of the pitchers evolved to catch leaf debris falling from taller plants and trees. This debris is broken down by the microorganisms within pitchers, and becomes a kind-of compost tea that S. purpurea then absorbs.
Speaking of pitchers, they grow in a rosette pattern, staying squat against the ground. At 6 to 8 inches, they aren’t the largest North American pitcher plants, but colorful venation and fancy ruffled lids do their part to attract prey. Like other Sarracenia, the lid is densely packed with downward-facing hairs to guide insects towards the open mouth. These hairs tend to be thicker and longer than on most other Sarracenia.