Highland tropical pitcher plant
Nepenthes spectabilis x ventricosa
The science bit
Carnivorous, climbing, semi-woody herb up to 15m tall. Leaves loosely spiralling, lanceolate with midrib forming a tendril at leaf tip, which often forms a pitcher. Pitchers up to 35cm long, held upright from the end of a pendulous tendril, hollow inside where insect digestion occurs, often contain water; lids brightly coloured with nectar-secreting glands. Flowering structures spikes of small yellowish flowers. Fruits dehiscent leathery capsules containing lots of seeds.
- The water held by the pitchers is sometimes enjoyed by monkeys (hence one of the plant’s common names) and even parched humans looking for refreshment in the tropical heat.
- The stems of some species of pitcher plants are used in Sri Lanka and Malaysia for basket-making and cordage.
Where it grows
Nepenthes pitcher plants are native to the Old World tropics, with the greatest diversity occurring around Borneo (Indonesia/Malaysia/Brunei) and Sumatra (Malaysia). The plant featured on this page is a cross (hybrid) of two highland species and is only known in cultivation. This hybrid requires a minimum temperature of 8.5°C in the winter and a maximum of 21°C in the summer, and ample moisture and high humidity throughout.
Many pitcher plants (Nepenthes sp.) have modified leaves that can form a vase or pitcher-shaped vessel that produces a sweet syrupy secretion that attracts insects and dissolves them into nutritious goo that is then absorbed back into the plant. Although these plants mainly catch insects, some species have been known to catch animals as large as birds and small rodents.
- Capsule: dry fruit that opens by valves, slits or pores to release seeds (dehiscent) and is composed of two or more united carpels (the basic unit of the female sexual organ).
- Lanceolate: narrowly ovate and tapering to a point.