By Ross Padluck
Every July, the climatic conditions in Midtown equate to those of the jungles of Borneo, and my 8-year old Nepenthes pitcher plant begins its dramatic process of producing new pitchers.
A new pitcher at the base of the plant.
Newly forming pitchers on the upper vines.
Nepenthes are a species of tropical carnivorous plants known for their unique pitcher-shaped leaves, which grow from tendrils at the end of each leaf. They use their pitcher-leaves to seduce prey with the promise of nectar and drown them in a pool of digestive enzymes inside their slippery pitchers. In the wild, they feast on everything from insects to frogs, and N. rajah has even been known to catch rats.
This pitcher is dripping with nectar, ready for prey. The nectar forms around the rim, and as the prey moves about the slippery rim, they fall in the pitcher. Downward pointing hairs inside the pitcher prevent the prey from escaping, and they soon drown in the fluid inside, and are slowly digested.
Since they’re native to jungles, they don’t do particularly well indoors, especially in the Northeast. However, my Nepenthes x ventrata is a survivor and awakens from its 10 month winter dormancy every July to put on quite a show for the office.
My Nepenthes in situ.
In all the years that I’ve grown this fascinating plant, I’ve learned a bit about caring for Nepenthes. I’ve found mine to be very sensitive to changes in its environment, as it took almost a year for it to adjust to the conditions in the office, and looked more dead than alive when I first brought it in.
It loves lots of northern light through our 1931-era single pane windows – it has been a bit of a struggle to get it to adjust to the stronger western light when we rearranged the office two years ago. The plant likes filtered water, but not too much – the roots are fragile and rot easily. Once a year I add new sphagnum moss to the planter, and that’s about it.
While it doesn’t pitcher quite as dramatically as it would in the jungle, it has grown vines that I have measured to exceed 12 feet at times. Eventually the vines get leggy and unsightly, so I trim them back and new vines always grow, ready for a new pitchering season.