The family comprises three extant genera: Sarracenia (North American pitcher plants), Darlingtonia (the cobra lily or California pitcher plant), and Heliamphora (sun pitchers). The extinct Archaeamphora longicervia may also belong to this family. All three are carnivorous plants that lure insects with nectar and use their elongated, tube-shaped leaves filled with water and digestive enzymes to catch and consume them. Digestive enzymes are not always produced by the plants themselves. Digestive mutualisms are common in Sarraceniaceae: both Sarracenia and Darlingtonia rely on commensal bacteria to supplement or produce all of their enzymes. Many species also use downward-pointing hairs and waxy secretions to make it difficult for insects to escape.
Sarracenia and Darlingtonia are native to North America, while Heliamphora is native to South America. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the family originated in South America about 47 million years ago and spread to North America soon after, about 35 million years ago. The Sarracenia and Heliamphora clade diverged from Darlingtonia around this time, most likely due to a cooling event at the beginning of the Oligocene. Sarracenia diverged from Heliamphora later, around 23 million years ago.
These plants grow in nutrient-poor, often acidic soil and use the insects as a nutritional supplement. As such, growth of carnivorous pitchers is plastic: as soil nitrogen increases, Sarracenia produces fewer pitchers. The pitchers originate from a rhizome and die back during the winter dormancy. Plants of the genus Sarracenia occur mostly in Sphagnum bogs.
Most Sarraceniaceae have tall, narrow pitchers that are vertical or nearly so. Sarracenia purpurea, however, has short, squat, bulbous pitchers close to the ground, and Sarracenia psittacina has pitchers that grow horizontally.
Archaeamphora longicervia, extinct
Sarraceniaceae chronogram based on combined data