The Cup of Forgetfulness

Look what's been hiding in one of my terrariums. I bought a small nepenthes (tropical pitcher plant) at the Brooklyn Flea this past February and planted it in a lidded glass jar. A successful terrarium seems to have a diurnal cycle. They kind of fog up and even "rain" a little in the cooler morning and evening and dry out as they heat up in the daytime. My plant seemed very happy with this weather since it was putting off lots of new leaves so, as you do with terrariums; I kind of forgot about it and didn't open the lid for months.

The other day I opened it to replace some moss and was surprised to find one 5-inch pitcher and two baby pitchers had formed and were hiding among the leaves.


Nepenthes are native to the jungles of Southeast Asia, India and Australia with the biggest concentration occurring in Borneo and Sumatra. They've been called monkey-cups because monkeys are reported to drink rainwater from the plant in the wild. The plant produces its own viscous liquid that forms in the base of the pitchers (even my never-watered pitchers have it). This juice helps trap, drown and even digest insects that venture over the lip of the pitcher and slide down its waxy throat.

The genus is named after nepenthe, a potion mentioned in Homer's Odyssey that makes one forget one's sorrows. The plant was first described in 1658 by a French colonial governor in Histoire de la Grande Isle de Madagascar.

Below, a newly formed cup grows in my terrarium.

Below, one of 19th-century botanical artist Marianne North's eccentric paintings of a nepenthes. If you are in London, visit the special gallery that houses 832 of her botanical artworks at Kew.

Recently, a giant nepenthes (Nepenthes attenbouroughii), seen below, was found in the Philippines by some missionaries who got lost in the mountains while trying to install a radio tower (I would wager it wasn't going to merely broadcast Lite FM...). Once rescued, they reported seeing hundreds of the alien-looking plants and their location to scientists who returned to catalog them.

I find the combination of misguided missionairies and previously unknown mammal-eating plant species irresistible. These pitchers grow up to 4 feet in length so not quite adapted for trapping lost proselytizers yet—but hey, evolution works in mysterious ways.

Here is a fascinating video from the Planet Earth television series showing a more common nepenthes in action. Coincidentally, Sir David Attenborough, the namesake of the new species, narrates this eerie tale of carnivorous plants and scuba-diving spiders.

10 comments:

Marian said...

Yikes! but I love it.

babszilla said...

This is one of my favorite postings to date! I loved the gorgeous photos of your terrarium, the insightful commentary and the very cool, yet creepy, video.

The Fern and Mossery said...

Wow that is a beautiful terrarium! I run a blog all about terrariums and lately my readers and I have been discussing the likelihood of being able to support a pitcher plant within a terrarium environment. They would love this post- may I post about it?

http://www.thefernandmossery.com/

Stephen Orr said...

Thanks Babzilla! i knew you'd like it. It has all your gothic/nerdy requirements

Stephen Orr said...

Dear Fern and Mossery,

Please do! I love to be linked to. I'm headed over to look at your site now.
Thanks!

Stephen Orr said...

To Fern and Mossery--Also just to confirm for your readers, I haven't done a thing to it in 6 months except replace some moss for aesthetics. I don't water or feed it at all so far...

JR said...

I had one of those...I loved it and then one day it totally creeped me out. It is a beautiful plant though.

Francine Gardner said...

We saw many of these carnivors in the Tanjung Puting National Rainforest near Pangkalan Bun in Borneo. They are HUGE there. What a fascinating if somewhat gruesome class of plants. I'll stick with Orchids for home and shop display.

Anonymous said...

Amazing plant I have the N ventricosa x N Mira hybrid and it is very cool although kinda creepy to find dissolving insects in them but still not as creepy as when my ball python squeezed a mouses spine partially out its back ugh. Good luck growing your plant and do u know what species it is I'm guessing it's lowland because my highland hybrid grows quite well in an open topped terrarium at room temp with much lower humidity levels.

Anonymous said...

Do u know what species it is and if it's highland or lowland I suspect lowland. I just posted last and my hybrid is suddenly growing pitchers back after they wilted from shock after shipping and a sudden improper brightness.