Nepenthes (unspecified)

Nepenthes  • 

Photo: Nepenthes (unspecified)

Nepenthes (unspecified)


Collectors Corner Fact Sheet

This genus has about 80 species, and is probably the most spectacular of the carnivorous plants, that snake through the undergrowth and trees in the jungles of Malaysia and nearby islands, northern Australia, Indonesia, and Madagascar. With a wide variety of colour and shapes, Nepenthes are also the largest of the pitcher plants. The plants have two common names: Tropical Pitcher Plant, and Monkey Cup. The pitchers, borne at the tips of the leaves on tendrils, are shaped like tubes, tubs, or drums, and capture various small invertebrates (and the occasional small vertebrate). The ecology of the species is very complex, and many have symbiotic relationships with ants, spiders, and other creatures. These plants are plastic in appearance - the form of their pitchers is influenced by light conditions, temperature, humidity, the age of the plant, whether the pitcher is near the ground or high in the trees, and the particular species - determining the identity of a plant can be extremely difficult. These plants are endangered, mostly because of habitat destruction from slash and burn agriculture, together with export timber production techniques in various areas in south-east Asia. Populations are so small that collectors are having serious impact on the plants. Several species are extinct. One species, N. mirabilis, is a native of Cape York in Queensland - but not exclusively so.

Because of their size, shape, and care required, these plants are valued highly by collectors, and are avidly sought. Thus the genus is one of the CPs most involved in illegal overseas trade. For the collector, this is one of the most expensive genera - a single small plant is regularly priced at AU$200 or more - smaller plants of the more available species or hybrids can be much cheaper in price than this. Sadly, the high price of the rarer plants has produced a proprietary attitude among aficionados similar to the attitudes of some orchid enthusiasts. Herbarium sheets of extinct specimens have been stolen! There are cases of some growers breaking into and entering other growers' greenhouses to steal their plants! They have a long history, being first cultivated during 'Victorian' times in England, where they were a real favourite. These plants grow a long vine, 15 metres or more in height, and have pitchers up to 30 cm. long and 8 cm. wide. The pitchers are formed on long tendrils at the end of the leaves. They often have different pitchers on the upper and lower levels of the plant. The flowers of Nepenthes are rather peculiar, like a feather duster, and only appear on mature plants.


To keep these plants you need to provide humidity, good drainage, and warmth in winter. In Melbourne, N. khasiana is about the easiest for a beginner to keep - it will live through our cold winters if kept protected from strong winds. In Queensland many species of Nepenthes are grown outside. A suitable growing medium for Nepenthes has been found to be a mixture of 2 parts live Sphagnum moss mixed with 1 part orchid bark. This should not be packed down, but left fairly loose in the pot, so that it provides the adequate drainage that the plants must have. Nepenthes containers must never be placed in a water tray or other shallow reservoir, as is recommended for most other carnivorous plants. Watering must be only from the top of the container, must be regular, and must be frequent, particularly in the warm months. When watering, the leaves should be sprayed as well - these methods simulate the frequent rainfalls of their native tropical jungle environment.

However, most of the Nepenthes species are not a recommended carnivorous plant type, unless you can provide the needed humidity, and learn about the requirements of individual species. For those who have the space, this is a glorious genus. Unfortunately, you often find them languishing in mistreatment at botanical gardens. Growers divide the genus into two broad groups: the highland and the lowland species. The highland species are generally considered to be epiphytic, and desiring cooler night-time conditions. The lowland species are normally situated less than 1000 metres above sea level, where summertime minimum temperatures are around 21ºC (70ºF), together with a high humidity both day and night. In winter, minimum temperatures down to 16ºC (61ºF) can be tolerated. At these low altitudes the difference between day and night temperatures is mostly small. Maximum temperatures greater than 30ºC (86ºF) are common and readily tolerated, as long as the humidity remains high. The highland plants grow on the mountains of the tropical countries, usually higher than 1000 metres above sea level. Here the daytime minimum temperatures in summer are about 18-22ºC (64-72ºF) with high humidity, and at night they can be in the range 8-15ºC (45-59ºF) with much lower humidity. Winter temperatures in such locations will be slightly lower than in the summer. For most growers not situated in a genuine tropical location, the highland Nepenthes species are preferred, due it being relatively easier and cheaper to provide a reasonable growing environment for these plants. The Nepenthes hybrids may be derived from both highland and lowland parents, and so are then generally less demanding with their temperature needs. Hybrid vigour, described on page 37, is another factor making the Nepenthes hybrids fairly suitable and easy to accommodate within non-tropical locations. There is a little-known trick for use with Nepenthes plants. If you remove the tendril, together with embryo pitcher, from a leaf just before the pitcher starts to develop, the pitcher on the following leaf will be up to 50% larger than it would have become otherwise. An additional size-gain can be achieved if this is done to two tendrils, and the larger results seen in the third-in-line pitcher. However this should not be done on a regular basis, because you are robbing the plant of much of its nutrition-gathering capability. Try it a month before a show to obtain a large and impressive pitcher for the judges to see. It should be noted that there are some very tough species of Nepenthes that will tolerate relatively low humidity ,dryish conditions and cool temperaters.Highland plants such as N.ventricosa and some highland hybrids such as N.alata X N.spathulata can be grown succesfully outdoors in a temperate climate with moderate humidity.However in such a case pots with trays underneath are recommended and it is important not to over water.Nepenthes are one of the only two CP genera being dioecious - share this with Catopsis. That is, there are male and female Nepenthes plants. This state is uncommon but not rare in the plant world. Many images of Nepenthes are displayed on the Internet. For further horticultural information on this genus, some VCPS members are very knowledgable with good collections, and are happy to help interested people.

Cultivation Summary

Pots - 4 - 10 inch depending on the species.
Compost - Good quality sphagnum moss.
Climate - temperate - tropical depending on species.
Light - Bright shade to full sun.
Water - water from the top of the pot every few days.Do not allow the pot to sit in water.
Propagation - Cuttings,divison of clumps,seed .
Humidity - High .
Notes - highland species are much more cold tolerant.If grown in a greenhouse then fertilization is necessary for best results due to a lack of insects.Nepenthes rely heavily on nutrients from captured insects.



1 - 200 cm
Partial shade
Moist but well-drained
Needs protection