North Walton pitcher plant bog boasts international fame

July 13, 2012

Sarracenia ‘Leah Wilkerson.’ Photo courtesy Brooks Garcia.

One native Sarracenia hybrid named after landowner

Tucked behind the fence line of a North Walton County farm is a wetland bog of international intrigue. A pitcher plant bog that is, along the banks of Walton resident Leah Wilkersons’ pond.

Since the early 1930s, Wilkerson’s family lived and worked their cattle ranch on 72 acres of rolling hills in the New Harmony area. Early on, Leah’s father dug a multi acre pond and burned the surrounding land to create healthy cattle grazing pasture.

“He didn’t believe in planting a pasture, he burned,” Wilkerson said.

Over the years, the good land stewardship created the perfect environment for the natural growth of wiregrass and pitcher plants.

“I had no idea the burning helped the pitcher plants to grow,” Wilkerson said.

Over the years the pitcher plant field grew to several acres and started garnering quite a bit of attention. Passers by would stop, gawk, take photos and sometimes help themselves to the plants.

“It was ridiculous; they would stop, come up in the yard and just grab plants,” Wilkerson remarked.

Pitcher plant from Wilkerson’s bog. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

In 2002, Brooks Garcia, a budding horticulturist from Atlanta, was traveling to the beach and stopped at the colorful field of pitcher plants. He had heard about the field from a friend who had seen the field previously on the way to the beach. Garcia, like the others, was amazed. However, he quickly realized there was something incredibly special about one particular pitcher plant in the field. Standing in the midst of one patch was a natural hybrid towering above the others. Garcia became instantly obsessed. He had to befriend Wilkerson and acquire one of the plants.

Wilkerson gave him permission to take one of the unusual hybrids, and Garcia brought it back to Atlanta. After a bit of online research, Garcia discovered the plant was one of a kind. He then registered the plant with the International Carnivorous Plant Society as a new cultivar Sarracenia x moorei and named it ‘Leah Wilkerson.’

“Leah graciously allowed me to collect a start of the Sarracenia moorei that bears her name from her property in North Walton County. It was officially registered Sarracenia x moorei ‘Leah Wilkerson’ with the International Carnivorous Plant Society. I have many ‘Leah Wilkerson’s in my personal collection of Sarracenia and have used it extensively in my breeding program. It has been distributed all across the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands that I know of. Because of its outstanding vigor and beauty it is a highly prized plant for any serious collector of Sarracenia,” Garcia said.

Leah Wilkersons’ pitcher plant population is a fraction of its size from when field was on an annual burn routine. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

“I told Leah she has what most astute horticulturalists only dream about, horticultural immortality, Garcia continued.”

As years have gone by, the glamorous pitcher plant field has dwindled to just an acre or so. Wilkerson’s land has not been burned since her husband’s passing in 2005. With no assistance to maintain the land, the healthy ecosystem has weakened and the pitcher plants are suffering.

A shame Leah Wilkerson doesn’t profit from her famous namesake. She’s just happy people aren’t tearing up her yard like they use to.