Tropical Pitcher Plants

In this series, titled the evolution of plants, we discover the fascinating world of carnivorous plants and find out more about how to grow them at home. Let’s take a closer look at the Tropical pitcher plants.

Nepenthes – Tropical pitcher plants

The first documented record of these green predators, dates back to 1658. There are over 160 known species and several are still being discovered. Sir David Attenborough is a keen enthusiast of this genus and has one named after himself – Nepenthes attenboroughii.

A number of tropical pitcher plants have developed a symbiotic relationship with vertebrates like shrews and bats and diplomatic relations with certain insects, allowing certain ant species to build nests and remove excess organic matter that then aids in the plant’s digestion. Hailing from the warm damp jungles of South-East Asia and Madagascar where they exist in varying habitats, these plants can be split into two areas of differentiation. Lowland species and highland species, depending on the altitude of origin. Lowland species prefer constant warm temperatures – days at 33°C and evenings at 18°C with high humidity. Highland species favour warm days of up to 28°C and cooler nights at 12°C.

Characteristics of Tropical pitcher plants

Tropical pitcher plants have vining habits, some reaching 15m in the wild. From a single stem, leaves are produced with tendrils at the end. Tendrils mature into pitfall traps after wrapping around trees, to support the plant on its upward journey.

Pitchers present themselves in an array of colours and sizes, depending on the species. Some with smooth outer rims and lids or hoods while others have distinct markings and bright colours with ridges in the rim, called the peristome. All peristomes are slippery while the lids serve the purpose of creating a landing strip for flying insects and keeping rainwater out that could dilute the digestive enzymes.

Keeping in mind where they originate, these insectivorous plants can be kept successfully at home.

READ MORE: Find out more about carnivorous plants here!


Nepenthes cannot tolerate direct sun and fare best in indirect, bright light. Direct sun will scorch the leaves.

Water and Humidity

High humidity and moderate watering are best. These plants can be watered from the top, drenching the soil. Do not let your soil dry out as the pitchers will dry out. To increase humidity during the drier seasons and on very hot days, a misting will help. Only use distilled or rainwater.


Tropical pitcher plants need a well-draining soil medium that can retain moisture but they do not want to be waterlogged. By mixing fine orchid bark, perlite and sphagnum moss in equal parts, you can create your own potting mix. Plants should only be planted in plastic pots, glazed ceramic pots or wooden orchid baskets.

Support and Feeding

These are vining plants and will need the support of a climbing structure as they grow. This is the only genus of carnivorous plants that will appreciate a foliar feed at 1/3 strength every month. Use an orchid plant food.

READ MORE: For a large range of carnivorous plants visit Jozi Carnivores on www.jozicarnivores.co.za.

The Gardener