The Tropical Pitcher Plants: Lowland Nepenthes sp.
by Michael and Andreia Stiffler
The Nepenthes are often considered to be the royalty of the carnivorous plant world. Most species are from Southeast Asia, centering on Borneo but are also found in India, Madagascar and northern Australia. They usually grow as climbing or scrambling vines and are not typically jungle plants but instead grow on open and sunny ridges, slopes, meadows, fields and stunted forests. Humidity and rainfall are very high in these habitats.
About 30% of Nepenthes species grow in lowland areas where the days are hot and the nights are warm. Plants are male or female. The pitchers, oftentimes very colorful and ornate, are borne at the tips of the leaves on tendrils. They capture various small invertebrates (and the occasional small vertebrate) which are attracted by the nectar and color patterns. The pitchers are pitfall traps: insects slip on the wet peristome and fall into a syrupy liquid containing acids and enzymes.
Lowland Species: N. gracilis, N. rafflesiana, N. ampullaria, N. bicalcarata, N. truncata,
N. albomarginata, N. hirsuta, N. campanulata, N. mirabilis, N. reinwardtiana, N. northiana, N. veitchii, many others; hybrid species occur fairly frequently in the wild
Soil: Prefer a loose, open soil that remains wet to moist but allows drainage of excess water. There are many recipes, one mix is: one part each of long-fibered sphagnum, peat moss, perlite, lava rock, vermiculite, fine orchid bark and charcoal; top-dressed with live sphagnum. Many have success using live sphagnum or long-fibered sphagnum only.
Containers: Must be well-drained. Plastic pots, glazed ceramics, terra-cotta or wooden boxes or orchid baskets.
Watering: Use only chlorine free water with low mineral content such as distilled, reverse osmosis or rain water. Some public water supplies in New England are adequate—check with your water company or other NECPS members. Water overhead and allow to drain, not recommended to use the tray method.
Light: Partly sunny conditions. Fluorescent lighting is adequate to grow most species in terrariums.
Growing conditions: Require temperatures of 60-80◦F at night, 80-90◦F in the day; cold temperatures may kill them. Humidity must be high at all times, above 60%. Excellent for warm terrariums and greenhouses. May do well on windowsills and outdoors in the summer months. A dormancy period is not required.
Feeding: Can be hand-fed live or frozen insects, an easy alternative is to use high-protein fish foods such as koi or betta pellets or frozen blood worms.
Propagation: Easiest to propagate by stem cuttings; easy to raise from seed but grow slowly.
References and for more information
1. D’Amato, Peter. 1998. The Savage Garden. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press.
2. The Carnivorous Plant FAQ