Introducing the genus Nepenthes.
by Francesco Zezza
In General: The genus Nepenthes was discovered in 1658 by French governor of Madagascar. It was named by Linneo (Linnaeus) in 1753. All Nepenthes are fascinating, intriguing, plants whose pitchers, in the very beginning, were thought to be due to collecting water. Only after some time was their “carnivorous use” discovered. Nepenthes can attain (either vertically or horizontally) a TL measured in many meters (1 meter = 3 feet). Nepenthes, in the wild, are found in the whole of the Indian Ocean area (up to the Pacific one and China). As a general rule, these plants ARE hard to keep and can be, roughly, divided into Lowland and Highland, with the former being easier to keep. On the other hand, Highland – it’s said - can’t stand any temperature over 30° C and, as a matter of fact, a faithful mimic of that climate is NOT that easy.
· Tips on keeping Nepenthes: As a general rule, Nepenthes like soil low in nutrients but, at the same time, rich in minerals to use during growth. Pot should be changed only when ABSOLUTELY “compulsory” (i.e.: roots coming out) since the roots are extremely tiny and fragile. Above all, the “compound” around roots themselves should not be touched.
· Water and Light: Use ONLY rain water and/or R.O. water (humidity rate should be, in many cases, well above 75%). Provided humidity is high, Nepenthes are said to be able to stand many hours in a row of direct sunlight.
· Temperature: Never above 35° C (and 25° C for Highland). All Nepenthes fear frost and the lower temp edge is 5° C; even if already below 15° C, vegetative activity comes almost to a stop.
Nepenthes said to be available in Italy: Almost all are hybrid (quite a common habits in plants) and are:
· Nepenthes x ventrata (ventricosa x alata)
· Nepenthes x mista (maxima x…)
· Nepenthes x hibride (… x …)
All of them are “hard plants” that will stand some errors as they have been hybridized in order to lower their original highly demanding cultivation requirements, and are – above all - said to be excellent “experimental plants”. Once used to keeping these plants, You can proceed further (a certain amount of experience in keeping orchids – I happen to have two plants but am, by no means, an expert - is said to be of help) to “pure strain”. Nepenthes will likely produce “child plants” at the bottom and it looks like they thrive when kept somewhat “crammed”. Finally, beyond these “tech needs”, Nepenthes are – in this “crammed” set-up – really nice to look at ...
A small note on hibrydization: a name like Nepenthes x ventrata (ventricosa x alata) means that the given hybrid has been obtained between (with both “parents” being pure strains, or at least I suppose so) a Nepenthes ventricosa and a Nepenthes alata. Then Nepenthes x mista (maxima x…) means a crossbreed between Nepenthes maxima and … something “undeclared” (likely for business needs, IMVHO). Hybrid names, then, follow the same rules of pure strain plants.
Up to here is theory and now … here comes:
Foreword: I got it in a Garden Center (it was the last available specimen and they – Garden Center keepers - never re-ordered ’em!) with nice leaves and, on the other hand, badly damaged pitchers (may be because of lack of humidity?). They cost me about 25 EURO (25 USD) which is quite a cost, considering the overall plant’s health!!! I had, then, NO opportunity to choose (since was the only available specimen: labelled as Nepenthes alata - a supposed pure strain … ), despite all I’ve reported above. I must add I feel (having checked on the matter real experienced Nepenthes keeper) that this plant has been mislabeled, being, actually, a Nepentes ventrata (see above).
Acclimatizing: Once at home, back in March 2002, I placed it (half hidden) behind an enormous Ficus Benjiamina (to help the humidity to last longer). It took about two months for the “kid” to understand things were hopefully changed for the better and then, shy in the beginning, my Nepenthes put out a first leave, then a second. When I saw the first new pitcher (even if smaller in size because of: young age? Different “micro-environment” she’s living in? Else? ) I started to think my Nepentehs was, at last, making its way ...
Further evolution: Right now (June 2002) the plant has lost one (single) leave while two completely dried up pitchers have been removed (cut away) by myself. In the meantime she has grown consistently, sprouting a lot of new leaves, new pitchers, and a few “plantlets” (close to main ”body”) are in sight. I don’t know why, but the leaves seem to prefer the sunny area (only partially hidden by the other plant!) while all the pitchers have grown in the shade. Well below the pot are detectable the previously damaged old pitchers. SEE PICTURES.
And ahead we go: with “not that good” of news I have to add (regrettably). The Ficus bejiamina has outgrown the Nepenthes forcing her too much in the shade and this cost her the loss of ALL pitchers and a remarkably lower vegetation rate. After having considered the situatiuon I decided to move the Ficus elsewhere (despite its size: over 3 mt/9 ft in height!). Things seem to go better but I, still, keep my finger crossed …
Time for pics now: they will explain, the whole matter, way better than my speech. I hope you’ll enjoy them … NO pics are available AFTER the Ficus removal, I knew I had to shoot them but …
The Nepenthes (in back-ground) and the Ficus Benjiamina: AKA how the whole “thing” looked like in the very beginning
Let’s go a bit in detail to have a closer look at her (i.e.: pitchers., leaves).
New pitchers: New pitchers (the traps to “catch” insects!) “come to life” in few months. Smaller but healthier than the ones the plant was carrying when bought!
FINALLY: A demanding plant (all Nepentehs are!), indeed! But I’m happy to have undergone this task. Anyone interested in gardening should give “Pitchers plants” a try …
Many thanks to Carli De Busk for her editorial help.