CR File: Attenborough’s Pitcher Plant

Attenboroughs pitcher plantBy John Oliver

Common Name: Attenborough’s Pitcher Plant

Species : Nepenthes attenboroughii

Range: Victoria Massif, Palawan, Phillipines

Threats:

  • mining
  • poaching
  • difficulty in propagation

Atop Mt Victoria in the province of Palawan, Phillipines, grows one of the rarest and youngest pitcher plants catalogued.

First discovered in 2007, it was named Nepenthes attenboroughii for naturalist Sir David Attenborough who has always had a keen enthusiasm for the genus. The species was not officially described until 2009, and is critically endangered.

Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that capture insect prey in fluid filled tube-like leaf structures called pitchers. Growing to a height of up to 1.5 metres and with pitchers up to 30cm tall and 16cm across, the Attenborough’s Pitcher Plant is considered one of the largest pitcher plants yet discovered; one study found the pitcher on one plant contained more than 1.5 litres of liquid. They are also known to be capable of digesting small rodents following the discovery of the remains of a shrew inside the pitcher of one plant in late 2012.

Each plant is capable of producing multiple pitchers, described as upper or lower, and the pitchers themselves can vary dramatically in size and colour.

The flowers of the plant generally grow on a single stem that can contain up to 100 densely packed flowers. These stems are up to 65cm long depending on the sex of the plant, and although female plants always produce a single stem, male plants have been found to produce 2 stems on occasion.

With only a few hundred plants still in the wild colony, survival is severely impacted by organised poaching for the Japanese or Taiwanese markets. The rarity of the plant, as well as its size, mean locals see it as an item to be harvested for profit with little to no consideration given to its conservation value.

Regrettably, Mt Victoria, where the majority of the colony is located, is not a conservation zone. There is already a mine at the base of the mountain and companies hold exploration rights for the rest of the mountain. Attempts are being made to propagate the plant to increase its population, but harvesting the seeds is a difficult procedure and there is very limited success in germination.

Nepenthes attenboroughii: a rare and beautiful plant that is on the verge of extinction, primarily at the hand of man.

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