Pitcher plant (Nepenthes inermis)

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Nepenthes inermis pitcher
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Pitcher plant fact file

Pitcher plant description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderNepenthales
FamilyNepenthaceae
GenusNepenthes (1)

The tropical pitcher plants of Asia (Nepenthes species) are amongst the largest and most spectacular of all carnivorous plants. Nepenthes inermis is a vine, from which modified pitcher-shaped leaves hang from coiled tendrils and into which insects and other invertebrates fall. Nepenthes species usually have two or three different types of pitcher, generally known as upper and lower pitchers (4), but in Nepenthes inermis the lower pitchers are rarely produced (2). The upper pitchers vary slightly in form from trumpet-shaped and occasionally flattened in one plane, to ovoid or tubular (2). The smooth and waxy upper inner surface of the pitcher makes it impossible for captive insects to gain a foothold (5), and a ridge of hardened tissue lining the mouth of the pitcher, the peristome, bears downward pointing teeth, also preventing insects from escaping (2). A lid overhangs the mouth of the pitcher, preventing rain water from diluting the pitcher fluid (2). Young Nepenthes inermis are hairy, but the mature individuals are predominantly hairless (2).

Size
Length: 5 m (2)
Picher height: 8 cm (2)
Pitcher width: 3 cm (2)
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Pitcher plant biology

Pitcher plants are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate plants (5), and only begin to flower once the upper pitchers are produced (4). The flowers produce large amounts of nectar during the early evening and night, which evaporates by morning. This nectar attracts flies during the early evening and moths at night to aid pollination. Once fertilised, a fruit usually takes about three months to develop and ripen. The fruits of Nepenthes species produce between 100 and 500 very light, winged seeds, which can measure up to 30 millimetres long, and are thought to be dispersed by the wind (2) (6). Despite enormous numbers of seeds being produced, only a few manage to germinate and only a fraction of those survive to maturity (2).

Carnivorous pitcher plants are adapted to grow in soils low in nutrients. Although the plants do gain some nutrition through the soil, and energy through photosynthesis, they supplement this with a diet of invertebrates, usually consisting of ants, cockroaches, centipedes, flies and beetles (5). Insects are attracted to the pitchers by their bright colours and nectar, which is secreted by glands situated on the lid of the pitcher. The insects fall into the acidic fluid at the base of the pitcher and, unable to escape, they drown. The acidic fluid in Nepenthes inermis is extremely viscous suggesting that this species traps a large number of flies compared with other Sumatran pitcher plants (5). Digestive enzymes are then released to break down the captured prey (5).

Despite the hostile environment of the pitchers, they can be home to number of animals. The red crab spider (Misumenops nepenthicola) inhabits pitcher plants in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. This spider ambushes insects that crawl into the pitcher and preys upon other insects, such as mosquitoes, as they emerge from larvae that live in the pitcher fluid (2).

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Pitcher plant range

Endemic to Sumatra, Indonesia, where it grows between 2,300 and 2,590 metres above sea level (5).

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Pitcher plant habitat

Nepenthes inermis grows in stunted upper montane mossy forest. It generally grows as an epiphyte, but occasionally grows along the ground (2).

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Pitcher plant status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Pitcher plant threats

Nepenthes species are threatened by a combination of over-collection and habitat loss (2). The biodiversity of Indonesia is significantly threatened by widespread habitat destruction, caused by illegal and commercial logging and large agricultural projects such as rubber and oil palm plantations (7).

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Pitcher plant conservation

Nepenthes inermis is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) limiting the international export of this species (3). However, trade is very difficult to regulate and there is no requirement for internationally traded Nepenthes to be identified down to species level. Plants simply labelled as Nepenthes accounted for 94 percent of all exported Nepenthes plants between 1988 and 1993. This needs to be remedied and urgent attention is required to close other trade loopholes (2). Nepenthes species, including Nepenthes inermis, are being increasingly cultivated, helping to reduce the impact on wild populations. Artificial propagation can help make conservation efforts more effective together with the establishment of more habitat reserves and the implementation and enforcement of protective laws (8).

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Find out more

For more information on Nepenthes species see:

  • Clarke, C. (2001) Nepenthes of Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia. Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

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Authentication

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
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Glossary

Carnivore
Flesh-eating.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Enzymes
Proteins that trigger, or accelerate, activity in the cells of the body, for example, breaking down foods during digestion and building new proteins.
Epiphyte
A plant that uses another plant, typically a tree, for its physical support, but which does not draw nourishment from it.
Fertilisation
In a flowering plant, fertilisation is the process of a pollen grain joining with the ovule (female egg cell). After fertilisation, the female parts of the flower develop into a fruit.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Montane forest
Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
Photosynthesis
Metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
Pollination
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Clarke, C. (2001) Nepenthes of Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia. Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia..
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Shiva, R.G. (1984) Pitcher Plants of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Maruzan Asia Pte Ltd, Singapore.
  5. Jebb, M. and Creek, M. (1997) A skeletal revision of Nepenthes. Blumea, 42: 1 - 106.
  6. Clarke, C. (1997) Nepenthes of Borneo. Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
  7. Mittermeier, R.A., Gil, P.R., Hoffmann, M., Pilgrim, J., Brooks, T., Mittermeier, C.G., Lamoreux, J. and Da Fonseca, G.A.B. (2004) Hotspots Revisited. CEMEX, Mexico City.
  8. Wild Borneo (May, 2008)
    http://www.wildborneo.com.my/articles/art_nos_con.html
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Image credit

Nepenthes inermis pitcher  
Nepenthes inermis pitcher

© Ch'ien C. Lee / www.wildborneo.com.my

Chien Lee
Peti Surat 2507
93750 Kuching
Sarawak
Malaysia
mail@wildborneo.com.my
http://www.wildborneo.com.my

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