Field of Carnivores

At this Stanardsville nursery, insects are on the menu.

(Photo courtesy of Robert Sacilotto)

Look closely: the rows of colorful flowers at Botanique, a curious plant nursery in the Blue Ridge foothills, are not flowers at all. They’re carnivorous pitcher plants. Robert Sacilotto was first inspired to grow carnivorous plants—which survive on insects and the occasional mouse—when he realized their wetland habitat was disappearing.

“We’d see a cornfield, and then a ditch where pitcher plants were dying,” Sacilotto says recalling early encounters in the 1970s. “So we’d stop, knock on doors, and ask if we could collect some plants. None of those sites exist now,” he explains. “The habitat is about three percent of what it once was.”

Once Sacilotto had collected enough rare plants to open a small nursery, business partner Butch Bailey joined him. Today, Botanique also carries venus fly traps, sundews, and other carnivorous plants. Pitcher plants produce a sweet nectar that attracts insects. When they come closer for a taste, the insects wind up slipping into the pitcher where they’re digested.

Today, Botanique sells their rare plants and ornamental hybrids to gardeners, hobbyists, and florists—either online or through in-person appointments. Collectors and biologists around the world regularly offer him new seeds, but Sacilotto says, “unless it’s super rare—something that is an ecological necessity—I usually turn it down. There is a functional limit to what you can do.”

For gardeners interested in growing pitcher plants, Virginia’s climate is ideal, Sacilotto says. Just add plenty of water, since they thrive in boggy soil. “They’re seasonal,” he explains, gesturing toward a gorgeous row of pitchers in fall colors. “Cover them with some oak leaves during the winter, and they will come back just fine in the spring.” PitcherPlant.com


This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue.

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