Nepenthes x mixta: Pitcher Plant
The two preceding specimens were examples of the various ways in which plants are adapted for capturing insects. They are far from being the only ones. A truly exquisite example of such adaptation is the pitcher plant, in which the midrib is extended to form a fly-catching pitcher at the end of the leaf, one that is even closed by a lid. The edge and sides are smooth and waxy so that the insect readily slides down to the bottom where it drowns and is decomposed in the liquid secreted by the plant.
Pitcher plants are native to the tropical regions of the Old World, where almost 80 species are distributed over the area extending from Madagascar to Oceania. The greatest number is to be found in Borneo, where they grow from lowland elevations to the height of the Kinabalu volcano. Most are epiphytes; some, however, root in the undergrowth of the rain forests and climb up trees, others even grow in the ground with their pitchers laid on the surface so that the insects can scramble inside.
Pitcher plants found in cultivation are generally hybrids, breeders having attempted to grow plants with pitchers as large and as brightly coloured as possible. The hybrid is a classic cross between a species from the vast area reaching from Borneo to New Guinea (Nepenthes maxima) and another from Borneo (N. northiana). It has inherited the beauty of its parents, but unfortunately also their tenderness, requiring a permanent high humidity of 80 to 90 per cent; otherwise it will grow but will not form pitchers. Because it is relatively robust, the only place to grow it is in a glass-case for tropical epiphytes. If you have such a glass-case you can also grow the magnificent N. rajah with deep red pitchers measuring up to 50 cm (20 in) and edged with black ‘teeth’. An excellent small pitcher plant is the greenish-yellow N. ampullaria, which is ideal where space is restricted.
Nepenthes should be grown in an epiphytic mixture composed of peat, beech-leaf litter, fern roots, crushed pine bark and bits of charcoal, also sand. The plants should be moved every spring and cut back hard at that time.