Nepenthes, also known as the pitcher plant, is a carnivorous plant native to the eastern sides of the United States. This insect-eating plant is also found along the coastline of British Columbia. These plants are primarily found in wetland areas and are well adapted to nutrient-poor and highly acidic soils. But it doesn’t mean that this plant is only found in the wilderness. Some gardeners have found joy in growing it at home and watching it feed on insects. It also produces beautiful flowers, making it a great addition to your home garden.
So, what are some of the amazing facts you didn’t know about nepenthes? Perhaps, the most obvious fact you may not know is that these plants are carnivorous. They mainly feed on insects by smacking them in their pitcher-like bag. That is why it is referred to as the insectivorous plant in some parts of the world. The plant is mainly found in wetland areas but can still survive in relatively warm temperatures. With its multi-colored flowers, the pitcher plant serves as a great houseplant.
This article discusses some amazing facts you didn’t know about the pitcher plant. So, if you are a botanist or plant enthusiast, you will find the content fascinating.
1. Nepenthes Is a Family of Carnivorous Plants
Sarraceniaceae are mainly adapted to living in tropical regions, while Nepenthaceae is mostly found in temperate and relatively cold climatic conditions. The scientific name of the most common nepenthes plant is Sarracenia Purpurea.
2. Diverse Growing Locations
The truth is that there are over 150 different species of Nepenthes plus countless naturally cultivated hybrids. The habitats of these plants are hugely diverse, and some are more adaptable to varying conditions than others.
Therefore, it is pretty difficult to offer generalized advice on which growing conditions are more ideal for pitcher plants.
However, when selecting a pitcher plant for your home, you need to consider space, temperature, humidity, and light. The common nepenthes plants usually grow in the upper canopy of tropical rainforests and prefer bright light to thrive. But you have to protect them from direct sunlight.
Partial or diffused sunlight is the best, but high-powered artificial fluorescent lights can also serve the purpose. Lack of coloration and appearance of spindly leaves are some of the signs that your plant isn’t receiving a sufficient amount of light.
These plants don’t go into winter dormancy, but the relatively shorter daylight hours during winter slow down their growth. Maintain the temperatures at about 25oC during the day and 15oC during the night for better results.
The true lowland species require close to 30oC during the day and 20oC during the night. These species can easily be killed by extreme cold. Maintain the humidity high at all times. If your plant doesn’t develop pitchers, it could be a sign of low humidity.
3. Its Beauty Is a Trap for Insects
Nepenthes highly resembles pitcher, but it has a slightly modified leaf with a lid located at the apex. This plant traps insects in a pool of water in the cup. Its beautiful top, colorful flowers and nectar that resemble raw meat attract beetles, butterflies, flies, and other types of insects.
When they land on the lid, the insects are trapped inside the cup, finding it difficult to get out because of the highly slippery cup walls. The hairs pointing down towards the top of the cup make it even more difficult for the insects to escape. With time, the insects drown, initiating digestion.
Once the insect dies, the plant produces special enzymes that digest it and absorb essential nutrients. The entire process only takes a couple of hours to complete.
4. Natural Habitat
So, where are nepenthes mostly found? Typically, these plants grow in wetlands and bogs of the east coast of North America and the eastern parts of the United States. They are common along the southeast coastline through British Columbia.
They love dwelling in areas that are somewhat prone to fires, and they can survive the fires under certain conditions.
Although they don’t require acidic soils to survive, they are well adapted to growing in nutrient-poor and highly acidic soils. These soils also lack nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient, but Nepenthes get their nitrogen requirements from the insects they capture.
5. Good Houseplants
However, you are encouraged to get your pitcher plant from the local nursery for conservation purposes instead of harvesting them from the wild.
Plant them in mildly acidic soil and ensure you provide sufficient exposure to sunlight. These carnivorous plants require prolonged exposure to bright light to thrive. You can also add them to your indoor terrarium to complement the other plants.
You must also ensure the temperature is right and maintain relatively high humidity in the growing area for them to survive and thrive.
6. Easy to Propagate
It is relatively easy to propagate pitcher plants through cuttings or seeds like other carnivorous plants. A small cutting from the stem can easily root in water or soil.
To propagate through seeds, you need to wait for the flowering season and pollinate the flowers to form seeds. Its seeds are relatively small in size but germinate pretty quickly.
Some gardeners have also reported success propagating nepenthes through division. For commercial production of these plants, plant experts mostly use the tissue culture method to propagate.
7. Nepenthes Has Evolved At least Nine Times
The most interesting fact about the pitcher plant is that it has evolved at least nine times since the first time it was discovered.
While its trapping method remains unchanged, the plant has developed a wide range of features to help it survive in different climates.
8. The plant Doesn’t Feed on Every Insect
While the pitcher plant can attract almost all types of insects because of its attractive lid, the plant is highly selective on what it feeds on. For instance, ants trapped under the lid are left to decay so that their decaying scent is used to attract other insects.
You will also find other predators such as the spider and some insect larvae under the lid. These predators use the lid of the plant as a habitat.
In some cases, you will find tiny frogs tucked away in the lid of nepenthes feeding on flies attracted to the plant.
9. Nepenthes Forms a Symbiotic Relationship with Bats
When the typical tropical bat is looking for a place to rest, it will probably cuddle inside the pitcher plant’s cup. The cup provides safe shelter for the bats while the bat’s poop gives the plant much-needed nutrients. So, it is a win-win scenario.
After receiving the bat poop for some time, the plant recognizes it and develops an extra cup specifically for collecting the poop. So, if you ever come across a pitcher plant with more than one cup, know that each cup serves a specific purpose.
The cup for catching insects remains highly perfumed, slippery, and full of digestive fluids. However, the cup for collecting bat poop is slightly bigger and looks like a hotel room.
The pitcher-like cups are well decorated with reflectors which bats use to radar system to explore the forest since they poke out easily.
10.Nepenthes Need Human Love Now More than Ever
Like most carnivorous plants, nepenthes are on the red list of plants at risk of going extinct. Some of the threats threatening the existence of this plant include loss of habitat, poaching, and pollution.
Yes, just like elephants and rhinos, we have some people who poach pitcher plants and sell them to plant collectors.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of plant lovers to collect these plants from the wild and conserve them in their homes and plant nurseries to help maintain the biodiversity of nature. In some parts of the world, such as Sumatra and Vietnam, people use these plants for gastronomic purposes.
The pitchers are filled with tapioca or rice and simmered to cook food. The increased exploitation of these plants from the wild has led to a drastic decrease in their number worldwide.
11.Some Nepenthes Species Trap and Digest Small Animals
The nepenthes rajah, a rare species of this plant, is known to trap and digest small animals such as lizards, birds, and even mice because their pitcher-like cups hold about three quarts of water.
Nepenthes albomarginata, which is quite different from the other nepenthes species, feeds on termites only. The species usually forms white trichomes at its base that attract termites only to become prey for the plant.
That is it about the nepenthes, and we hope you have learned amazing facts about this carnivorous plant. If you have been contemplating adding it to your plant, the right time to do so is now. Visit your local plant nursery and choose one for your indoor space.