Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pitcher plant – unique and interesting

IF you’re caught out in the jungle without a shelter, building one from natural materials around you can help keep you dry and safe, especially when you have spend the night out in the wilderness.

You can use whatever resources Nature provides, but after getting the necessary raw materials – wood or bamboo — you may be left without nails.

Don’t fret. Just look for pitcher plants (nepenthes) and once you’ve found them, your problem is solved. The plants’ lianas or woody veins are the best alternative for nails to build huts or shelters with in the jungle. The lianas can also be used as ropes to bind wood or bamboo, and if kept dry, can last up to a year or longer.

Moreover, the pitchers can double as pots, commonly used to boil rice or tapioca. Normally, flour from these two staples is filled in the pitcher and pinned with a tiny wood, the size of a toothpick. The pitcher is then boiled together with water in the pot for several minutes until the rice or tapioca is cooked.

Carnivorous plant

The pitcher plant has generated a lot of interests among naturalists because of its uniqueness. It’s a species of plant that eats insects.

Also called carnivorous plant, it is found in nutrient-poor soil but still thrives because it obtains nutrition from insects it catches.

Carnivorous plants are predatory flowering plants that kill animals in order to derive nutrition from their victims. They eat things like insects, spiders, crustaceans and other small soil and water-living invertebrates and protozoans, lizards, mice, rats, and other small vertebrates.

A report in says pitcher plants rely on insects as a source of nutrients, enabling them to colonise nutrient-poor habitats where other plants struggle to grow.

Prey is captured in specialised pitcher-shaped leaves with slippery surfaces on the upper rim and inner wall, and drowned in the digestive fluid at the bottom.

If an insect tries to walk on the wet surface, its adhesive pads are prevented from making contact, causing it to slip on the water layer.

New research has found that during heavy rain, the lid of nepenthes, especially the gracilis pitcher, acts like a springboard, catapulting insects, seeking shelter on its underside, directly into the fluid-filled pitcher.

Eve’s cup and others

The pitcher plant is also known by many as Eve’s cup, fly-catcher, flytrap, huntsman’s cup, smallpox plant and water-cup, and is found in abundance in Sarawak.

One need not go to the jungle for a first-hand look at the plant as it can be found at Padawan Pitcher Plant & Orchid Garden at the 10th Mile Bazaar.

The Garden showcases lowland pitcher plants from around Borneo and protected plants in Sarawak. It now has about 30 species — from climbers N albomorginata (Kuching spotted) to non-climbers N ampullaria (Bau green).

Padawan Muncipal Council (MPP) agriculture officer Willie Ngelai, who heads the Landscape Division, said their pitcher plants were collected from the jungles in various parts of the state.

He said N albomorginata are found in the lowland and have narrow felted leaves and stems. This species has large quantities of slender pitchers with a conspicuous chalky-white collar below the peristome. Its colour varies from pale green to deep red, depending on the type. It consumes insects and termites.

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