Nepenthes: Tropical Pitcher Plants (Deadly Trap)

When I looked at the picture of pitcher plants for the first time, I fell in love with it’s colours and morphology but what I didn’t know was that it’s a deadly trap. That’s when I realized again that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. But the feelings are strong, I still love this plant!

The tropical pitcher plants are mostly found in South East Asia including Sumatra, india, Philippines, Borneo and Northern Australia. They grow dominantly in acidic, porous soil but some species are also found to grow in alkaline conditions. They prefer to grow under bright, warm and good air circulation conditions. As the plant matures, it inflates itself with air and begins to fill the liquid. It has a lid that covers it during the time of it’s growth and when it is fully grown, the lid opens and the plants is ready to trap it’s prey.


Courtesy ofMark Longley/Alamy



Nepenthes are devoted and greedy feeders. They rely on their sweet smelling nectar, decaying odours and a pool of water to trap it’s prey. They feed on insects, rats, snails, frogs and are basically carnivorous. According to Darwin they have”carnivorous syndrome” due to their specialized taste and process of digestion. These plants have a slippery and flaky surface which is called a peristome, that allow the insects to slip and fall into the pool of water.


Courtesy of WILDLIFE GmbH/Alamy

Recent studies show that nepenthes can grow the stems up to 6 metres long and trap up to 4o cm in depth. The largest of the pitcher plant is called the ‘Rajah pitcher’ which has the capacity to digest a rat. In 2011, Scientists from Germany and Malaysia travelled to Borneo and found that tree shrews have a mutualistic relationship with this pitcher plant. They found that during the day time tree shrew lick the sweet nectar from the rim and then defecate into their pool hence providing nitrogen rich faeces to the plant.


The scientists also found the wolly bats sleeping inside the pitcher plants. One species of pitcher plants, N. hemsleyana serves as a resting place for  bats which provides nitrogen through its faeces resulting in plant evolution. This shows how bats uses the pitcher plants as their toilet!


                                                Courtesy of Schoner et al.

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