Flickr photo by brianwc
Nepenthes (or pitcher plant) is a genus of carnivorous, mostly vining, tropical plants native to South East Asia, India, Madagascar and Australia. The pitcher plant quietly waits for its prey --normally insects, but some larger species have been known to take down small vertebrates such as rats...'Little Shop Of Horrors' anyone? This plant is a little different than Audrey II in the movie. It is not a Venus flytrap catching prey with its moving jaws. The 'pitcher' itself is the bug catching part. It is not a flower but actually part of the leaf. Insects are so entranced by the nectar and coloration of these swelling nodding forms that they proceed to land on the slippery rim and inner walls of the pitcher and to their death they fall, into the trap, swimming in the plants digestive fluid. The plant then absorbs its nutrients from this 'soup.'
If your pitcher plant is not in an area that it is readily seducing prey, you can feed adult pitchers insects that you have caught for it by placing them in the pitcher or adding a little water soluble fertilizer to the 'soup'. The pitcher plant generally likes bright filtered light with a little bit of low intensity direct sun. They do well in an outdoor shady spot as long as the temperature does not dip below 50 degrees. When re-potting your pitcher plant use a porous soil that drains well and allows air to reach the plants roots. Do not let the soil of your bug eating plant to go dry and be sure to keep a little water in the actual pitchers. Try to remember to use purified water or rain water as to avoid higher concentrations of salt. Keep humidity high if you want the plant to keep producing the pitchers, which of course you do.
Even though the pitcher plant is indeed passively killing its prey, it does make for a beautiful and practical indoor and outdoor plant. Since it is mostly vining in nature it is ideal as a hanging specimen. (Plus, if the plant is hanging you can move it around to areas that might need a little insect aid.) Trim off the dead pitchers to keep it thriving. The pitcher plant is a wondrous and beautiful plant and certainly a talking piece. Feed me...yes please.