Date: 
Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 10:45

The Eden Project has opened a new garden dedicated to the fascinating world of carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes).

The garden in the Malaysian area of the hot and humid Rainforest Biome is home to more than ten different types of the plant, which drown and digest their prey in their pitchers – bulbous containers filled with a liquid enzyme and slippery sides.

In the wild pitcher plants usually catch ants, flies and small cockroaches but one species (Nepenthes rajah) has been known to devour larger creatures, including rats.

The plants have evolved to digest animal prey because the soil they typically grow in is very low in nutrients. “Eating” insects by absorbing their decomposing bodies gives the plants the nutritional boost they need to thrive.

Some pitcher plants have even moved away from capturing insects and have found new ways of gaining nutrients through their pitchers. One variety (Nepenthes lowii) has formed a relationship with tree shrews, who use the pitcher as a comfortable toilet. The plant then gains the nutrients it needs from the shrew’s poo.

Another (Nepenthes bicalcarata) has a relationship with an ant species which uses parts of the plant to form nests. The plant digests the poo left by the ants and also gratefully devours any of them unlucky to fall into the pitcher.

Nepenthes are mainly found within South East Asian rainforests and many are endemic to the Philippines and Borneo.

Because of the plants’ preference for low-nutrient soil, the Eden horticulture team had to dig out the bed and add large quantities of coir, or coconut fibre, to the area to create the ideal environment for them.

Rosie Wade, the Eden’s Rainforest Biome horticulturist who created the garden, said: “We’re really pleased to be showcasing the incredible world of pitcher plants to our visitors. These fascinating plants capture the imagination of everyone who sees them and get them thinking about the amazing adaptations plants make to their environment.”

Eden’s new pitcher plant garden is located in the Malaysia area of the Rainforest Biome and is open now.