Nepenthes rafflesiana

Drew Avery posted today's absolute jewel of a photo in our Flickr Pool late last month. We are grateful to him both for a wonderful image and for the opportunity to write a few lines about an exceedingly beautiful and interesting plant. (Original Image)

Nepenthaceae is a monotypic (i.e., single genus) family of about 120 non-woody vining species distributed throughout the tropical mainland and island regions of southeastern Asia. The genus name, which refers to an episode in Homer’s Odyssey, was coined by Linnaeus in order to convey something of the plant’s singular beauty and fascination: a mere sighting of the plant, the master botanist here seems to suggest, purges the viewer of all feelings grave and grim. Species and their preferred habitats vary greatly, with the latter ranging from hot and humid soils and climates through to the cool and at times frost-prone elevations of the montane tropics. Species are often referred to collectively as the “tropical pitcher plants” to differentiate them from the decidedly temperate and grounded Sarracenia, which share the fantastical vase-like modified leaves—the visual patterning, rich nectar reservoirs, and liquid-filled cavities of which attract, trap, and dissolve insects for sustenance. This carnivorous faculty is a somewhat common adaptation to living in soils deficient in nitrogen.

Nepenthes rafflesiana occurs in the wet, sandy lowlands of Borneo, Sumatra, peninsular Malaysia, and Singapore. The species, which was first discovered by Scottish botanist William Jack in 1819, in fact derives its name from one of Jack’s traveling companions, the British imperialist and founder of present day Singapore, Stamford Raffles. The vines scramble up to 15 metres in height, and can grow at altitudes as high as 1200 metres. The species' unisexual flowers exhibit a wide range of colouration, and are often coated with a thin layer of indumentum (fine hairs). The plants are hardy to a variety of habitats and climate conditions, but prefer the high heat and humidity of their native tropical lowlands. With the help of a heated greenhouse, species can be grown in a cool temperate area like Vancouver, but enamored and ambitious gardeners should note that the family’s carnivory does not extend to mammalian meat, which, according to experts, frequently causes unpleasant odours and lethal rot when fed to the plant.

Nepenthes rafflesiana

18 responses to “Nepenthes rafflesiana”

  1. Leanne

    looks like a man in a big hat sitting in a boat. Very neat!

  2. Ryan

    Nice to see a carnivorous plant represented on BPotD! Thanks for a lovely image and description.

  3. Jennifer Frazer

    These flowers remind me a bit of Aristolochia sp. One hopes that, while not caring for mammalian flesh, they similarly don’t have a taste for mammalian blood (i.e. Audrey II). I went blackberry picking last weekend and I can attest that that species certainly does.

  4. The Hollyberry Lady

    How unique!
    : O

  5. Debby

    I enjoyed the side trip to read about Sir Stamford Raffles. Thank you for broadening our knowledge.

  6. CB

    fyi: since you can’t really tell from the photo above, the pitchers appear to dangle off the tips of the leaves on strings, and are actually modified leaves – not flowers. if you haven’t seen how these grow in real life (the tendrils, the dangling pitchers, the inflorescences) definitely check out some other photos on Google! they are very neat plants.

  7. Viola

    absolutely fascinating!!! thanks to the photographer for bringing it to our attention, thanks to Stephen for the write-up, thanks to Susan Campbell for the link!

  8. b moro

    I am curious – how big is this modified-leaf-looking-like-a-flower?

  9. Katalina

    Love it drew,
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. annie morgan

    Quite wonderful, and thanks to Susan Campbell for the link.

  11. Sundew

    N. rafflesiana pitchers can grow to around 15 cm high but there are some Nepenthes species that can double that, eg N.raja or the recently discovered N.attenboroughii.

  12. elizabeth a airhart

    life and plants and all the human
    i wonder what it is leads one
    on to great adventures does it not
    fine photo and write up -thank you all

  13. L.Rasingam

    Very nice photograph

  14. Judy

    We enjoyed checking out the link. My sons say it looks a bit like a snake. “It’s cool!”

  15. Al

    In my opinion it looks a lot more like Nepenthes burbidgeae than Nepenthes rafflesiana. Nepenthes rafflesiana usually has much more pronounced wings. It’s a very beautiful picture anyways.

  16. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    I finally saw a nepenthes plant a few days ago, here in Toronto in a flower/plant shop. I don’t know which species it was. The “pitcher” part was about 6″ long, a dark reddish-brown colour I think, with a rippled or serrated lip (unlike the smooth lip in this photo).
    There was something very organ-like about the pitcher structure (as in stomach-type organ! ;o)
    with its thick, firm, veined walls.
    I’m not usually squeamish, but this plant… I dunno…
    Still, a fascinating plant, and it was a real treat to see one in the flesh.

  17. Nick H

    that picture is not Nepenthes rafflesiana. its Nepenthes Burbidgeae.

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