Albany pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis)

Also known as: Australian pitcher plant, West Australia pitcher plant, Western Australia pitcher plant
KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderRosales
FamilyCephalotaceae
GenusCephalotus (1)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Albany pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant with highly modified leaves that act as pitfall traps for prey. The leathery, hairy leaves form tapered tubes, with three ribbed nectar-secreting glands running upwards to an elliptical mouth (2). The attractive bright red mouth has a smooth surface with slippery ridges, and is partially covered by an overhanging, translucent lid. Inside the pitcher an array of inward-pointing, sharp, teeth-like spines lead down to a prominent ridge of secondary spines and a pool of digestive juices. In the shade, the Albany pitcher plant is green, but in full sunlight this pitcher becomes a mottled, deep burgundy colour (2) (3) (4). In spring, a glossy green leaf is produced in addition to the pitchers, which serves to supplement the plant’s energy stores through photosynthesis, while in late summer, elongated flower stalks with faint white petals rise conspicuously on branched stems, high above the pitcher (3).

Endemic to south-western Australia, the Albany pitcher plant grows along a 400 kilometre narrow arc of coastline, always within 50 kilometres from the coast, from Yallingup to Cheyne Beach (2).  

In common with most other carnivorous plants, the Albany pitcher plant favours moist, wetland habitats (4). Most abundant on freshwater margins, this pitcher plant is also found growing in roadside ditches and peat bogs, favouring acidic sandy or peaty soils (2) (5). The Albany pitcher plant’s habitat is characterised by a fluctuating climate, with cool and wet winters followed by intensely hot summers (6).   

Growing in nutrient-deficient soils, the Albany pitcher plant has evolved the remarkable ability to break down and absorb nutrients from insects trapped in its pitchers. Attracted to the plant by its bright colours and nectar secretions, insects stepping on the slippery, waxy surface of the mouth fall into the pitcher. The smooth inner surface of the pitcher, and the downward-pointing spines trap the prey, and unable to escape, it drowns in the pitcher fluid and is broken down by digestive enzymes (2) (3). Those insects not immediately trapped in the fluid are tricked by the translucent lid of the pitcher, which lets light through, to fly around the inside of the pitcher and try to escape. Eventually tiring, the prey fall fatally into the fluid (3). Nutrients gained from the insect prey supplement those obtained from the soils, allowing this plant to survive in environments where others would not (7). 

Tiny flower heads raised on tall stalks begin to grow in late summer. Insects are attracted to the flowers and carry pollen between plants, and after pollination, brown, hairy seeds are produced. When exposed to the wind, the seeds are dispersed widely across the landscape, and in favourable conditions, rapidly growing clusters of young plants will emerge (2).  

Considered abundant throughout its range, with many thousands of plants, the population of the Albany pitcher plant is believed to be stable. Large areas of its habitat remain, with around 80 percent of the species’ range protected in government-owned reserves. However, this species is restricted to just a single area in south-western Australia, and as a consequence of urban encroachment, declines in wetland coverage have been observed, rendering this species vulnerable to further habitat loss (5). 

International trade in this species is regulated by the Australian Wildlife Protection Act 1982, prohibiting trade without permits. All wild plants are also protected by Western Australia’s flora protection laws, and licenses are required to pick plants from government owned lands. Consequently, due to the lack of trade in this species, it was removed from CITES Appendix II following a ten year review (5).     

For more information on the conservation of pitcher plants, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Cephalotus follicularis (February, 2010)
    http://www.aqph26.dsl.pipex.com/
  3. The Botanical Society of America (February, 2010)
    http://mcintosh.botany.org/carnivorous_plants/cephalotus.php
  4. The Carnivorous Plant Society (February, 2010)
    http://www.thecps.org.uk/content/view/42/25/
  5. CITES (February, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/11/prop/06.pdf
  6. Humboldt State University (February, 2010)
    http://www.humboldt.edu/~rrz7001/Franco/CephalotusfollicularisGiant.html
  7. The International Carnivorous Plant Society (February, 2010)
    http://www.carnivorousplants.org/cp/WhatAreCPs.php