Nepenthes: Tropical Pitcher Plants

Nepenthes (Nepenthaceae) is a genus of mostly vining carnivorous plants. The specialized leaves trap and digest a variety of insect and animal prey. This process makes up for nutrients lacking in the environment, most specifically nitrogen. They are predominately native to the tropical regions of Asia, Australia, and Madagascar. The leaves terminate in tendrils which bear tube or tub-shaped “pitchers.” These pitchers can be of various sizes and shapes within the same species depending on the age of the plant, the available light, even the height at which the plant grows in the trees. This variation, plus the fact that species of Nepenthes hybridize easily, makes identification difficult at times.


Species of Nepenthes are dioecious, meaning that there are male and female plants; you must have each flowering simultaneously to make seeds. The flowers are generally small and inconspicuous. Plants of this genus often have symbiotic relationships with ants, spiders, and other creatures.  

Many Nepenthes species are endangered today due to slash and burn agricultural practices in the tropics. The International Carnivorous Plant Society is working on recovery programs to maintain some species in cultivation.