Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pitcher Plants - Nature’s carnivorous cups


INTRIGUING are the pitchers – also known monkey cups — for they come in various shapes, sizes and colours.

Some are already quite mature — always jug-shaped. Some are elongated with a narrow neck-like amphoras while others are short or squat like mini tubs or cylindrical.

There are also different colours — from green to pink to the occasional red splotched pitchers.

Arguably, the most glorious and spectacular genus of carnivorous plants, these are the Nepenthes that fit so many of our stereotypical visions of what a carnivorous plant should be.

If you don’t believe me, come to the Pitcher Garden at Kota Padawan which showcases 55 species and sub-species of Nepenthes from steamy jungles in Sarawak.

These plants normally form enormous vines that clamber up to the trees or posts, and their carnivorous traps, as you can see at the garden, are great hungry-looking maws that look seemingly carnivorous.

And if you happen to drop by at the garden, you don’t need to understand the technical details of this plant to know it’s dangerous to animals.

In the jungle, most pitcher plants grow as lianas, and some can climb more than 10 metres up the trees. The tendrils of their leaves help them hold on to trees and bushes as support.

Some grow epiphytic while others usually stay as rosettes on the ground.

However, in the park at Kota Padawan, managed by Padawan Muncipal Council, the plants grow to the poles either in well-drained pots or on the ground.

During a recent visit to the garden, I was given to understand that pitcher plants usually produce two morphological, and sometimes, even ecological different types of pitchers.


Winged pitcher wall

This could be seen especially in the old plants that have lower or ground pitchers with their mouths looking towards the tendrils, and they have ‘wings’ on the pitcher wall.

I was told by the park officer, Stephen Lim, that when the plants begin to climb, they start producing upper or aerial pitchers.

Often, these two pitcher types look completely different, yet they may be hard to recognise since they come from the same plant.

This is true — as I was shown the upper and the aerial pitcher of the N bicalcarata which is obviously different in shape. However, we can tell they are from the same N bicalcarata species by the existence of the two thorns below the lid of the pitcher.

Lower pitchers are attached to the leaf with the site opposite to the lid and generally present in the lower part of the plant.

They are usually larger, especially basally, than the upper pitchers. It is believed that lower pitchers can even become very large when resting on the soil.

Upper pitchers are more slender and attached to the leaf with the side that carries the lid. These are always in the upper part of the plant.

The leaf morphology of Nepenthes is also among the strangest found in the kingdom of plants.

The pitcher is actually the lamina or leaf spade while the tendril is the stalk. What looks like the leaf is an extremely enlarged leaf base —the part of the stalk next to the stem.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Pitcher Plants - Nature’s carnivorous cups
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