Tropical Pitcher Plants
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There are many different species of tropical pitcher plants, also sometimes called monkey cups. These plants are carnivorous and most species trap small insects as a method to generate nutrients.
They all belong to the genus Nepenthes and most species are naturally occurring in Southeast Asia including New Guinea and the Philippines and all the way down to northern Australia. There are also three species from Madagascar and the Seychelles. Apart from these species, there’s also a great number of man made hybrids and cultivars.
Most tropical pitcher plants have a climbing growth habit and it’s not uncommon for them to reach over 6 ft when mature.
Nepenthes are among the easiest carnivorous plants to grow indoors. That’s because the most common ones are tropical species adapted to growing in conditions similar to our homes. They prefer a rather evenly moist soil and should never dry up completely. And will thrive in a bright spot and can be slowly acclimated to some direct sunlight during the day.
There are some different options when choosing a soil for these plants. Their root system is not very large compared to other plants, but it’s important that they have moisture retaining soil that’s also not too compact. One option is to grow them in pure sphagnum moss, or you can create your own mix out of peat, orchid bark and sphagnum.
They’re not as sensitive to salts and minerals in the soil as many other carnivorous plants, but shouldn't be watered with fertilizer. If the water you’re using is high in minerals it might still be worth flushing the soil now and then to prevent buildup. These plants absorb most nutrients through their pitchers. Your plant might find insects by itself, if kept indoors, you can feed it with aquarium fish flakes, dried bloodworms or diluted liquid fertilizer.
It’s common for Nepenthes plants to develop dried pitchers either from sudden changes in growing conditions or during the winter months. For example, they might dry when going from a plant nursery to your home due to the difference in humidity. Given some time the new growth can put out new pitchers better adapted to your conditions.
Propagating plants is easy by taking stem cuttings. You can root them in a glass of water and regularly change it to keep it fresh or you can root them directly in sphagnum moss under a humidity dome.
Since there are many species out there, there’s some variation to the care requirements for each. Most species commonly found in garden centers are easy to care for in normal room conditions. Nepenthes are usually divided into lowland, highland and intermediate species. Lowland species do best in stable high temperatures and high humidity. Highland species do best if they get cooler nights but tolerate lower humidity. Intermediate species are often easiest to care for.
Did you know that tropical pitcher plants have separate female and male plants? Once they’ve grown big and start flowering you could try to pollinate the plant to get seeds, but you'll have to have access to some pollen if you have a female plant.