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The weird and strange pitcher plants.

The Nepenthes, popularly known as tropical pitcher plants, Pitchel-pitchelan or monkey cups, are a group of carnivorous plants in the monotypic family Nepenthaceae. The name monkey cups refers to the fact that monkeys have been observed drinking rainwater from these plants. The group comprises of roughly 120 unique and bizarre looking plant species, known for its ability to form pitchers from its leaves. Most are natural growing wild species found in tropical jungles, while there are also cultivated hybrids and species. They are mostly vine-like plants ranging from South China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; some are found westward to Madagascar and the Seychelles; and southward to Australia, New Caledonia, India and Sri Lanka . The greatest diversity occurs on Borneo and Sumatra with many endemic species. The plant group is divided into the hot humid lowland growing group, and the tropical montane or high elevation cool growing plants.

The plants were first encountered by European explorers over 300 years ago. These plants with strange looking pitchers sparked great interest among the plant connoisseurs during those times and resulted in the study and discovery of many species. Big-time plant financing firms in Europe sent their best plant trackers along with botanists who raced even against each other in search for great new species and varieties of Nepenthes. These strange-looking plants that produced highly specialized foliage which evolved to form water-filled jub or pitchers always catches everyone's attention. The pitchers that they produce are variably attractive with interesting color patterns and which may contain or secrete digestive liquid that can lure, catch and ingest arthropods and other small animals. Interestingly, the pitchers also come in various sizes from the tiny 2-3 cm tall miniature types to the large 40 cm tall giant species. Interesting shapes from cylindrical, barrel and globular are most commonly seen, but others are funnel and chalice shaped, and some are mimicry of unusual wildlife forms.

In the wild, pitcher plants grow in three types of habitats. They maybe terrestrial (in soil), lithophytic (on rocks) or epiphytic (on top of tree branches), although most of them are terrestrial. They begin their initial stage of life with a rosette growth of stem with leaves in the soil, and then upon maturing they produce elongated vine-like stems with leaves producing tendrils, carrying the pitchers at the tip. The tendrils with pitchers can secure or anchor itself to rocks or tree branches in order to reach the upper areas above the ground, or on top of any neighboring plants or trees. The rosette-growth basically produce the first type of pitchers, the lower pitchers, with many species with a cylindrical, swollen or bulbous shaped pitchers. While the upper stems may develop the second type of pitchers, either with similarly shaped pitchers with the lower pitchers or funnel shaped. The upper pitchers with reduced volume of water will enable the plant to grow and scale up higher or further without difficulty.

The unique ability of these plants to form pitchers is an adaptation for them to survive in nutrient deficient environments. It's a competitive advantage for the plant as they utilized the nutrients from trapped insects or other animals in order to supplement their nutritional requirements. It is said that Pitcher plants have a tremendous will to survive and propagate. They usually survive dry summer months, poor soil conditions, and in favorable environment, can also produce flowers and produce numerous seeds.

For beginners, the cultivation of Nepenthes plants maybe considered challenging; but they are very rewarding. Spectacular specimen plants may be grown in artificial and natural conditions in the tropics. The plants are relatively fun and easy to grow, adapting well even to a small section in your garden. Nepenthes plants are "must have" plants into every gardeners collection. Through cultivation, every interested gardener can contribute directly and indirectly into the actual conservation of these fascinating plant species.

Pitcher plants are easy to cultivate, especially in shaded moist gardens or greenhouses. These plants grow in diffused bright light (about 50% light) and need to be protected from direct noon and afternoon sunlight to avoid scorching of leaves. They can be grown with other shade loving orchids like Phalaenopsis and also with ferns.

Water plants regularly and do not allow them to dry out completely. They can benefit from moist media and occasional flooding to wash away any accumulated salts. Use soft water such as rain water. Tap water coming from your local water company can be used as long as the water is low in salts. Provide a humid environment by grouping pitcher plants along with other shade loving plants. Water them regularly. They usually stop making pitchers when humidity is low. They can also be grown in terrariums (for small species), or inside clear plastic bags for added humidity.

Allow ventilation and air-movement between plants at all times to prevent rotting of leaves. As much as possible, always add a little water to the pitchers, about 1/2 or 3/4 its length to avoid the pitchers from drying up.

Pitcher plants can be grown in clay or plastic pots with any porous and low-fertility potting mixes like mixture of charcoal, coconut husk cubes, sphagnum moss, tree fern fiber and paslak (chopped roots of Birds nest fern). The potting media should be well drained and open enough so that air reaches the roots. Repot if the media breaks down, or when the plants needs a bigger pot. Pitcher plants are usually potted as a hanging plant.

Pitcher plants are light feeders. It is not recommended to use control release fertilizers in the pots as it may burn the roots. If plants are being grown on areas where they cannot trap insects, spraying of very dilute balanced orchid fertilizer, about 1/8 teaspoon per galloon water once every week is sufficient. Another way is to add the fertilizer solution in its pitchers at about 3/4 filled. For most plant hobbyists, one can occasionally add a small insect such as a fly, a cockroach or a dead cricket into the mature pitchers; however, this is not normally needed. Pitcher plants can be propagated by seeds or by stem cuttings.

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Title Annotation:Home & Garden
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Mar 25, 2015
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