Herself's Houseplants

Killing plants so you don't have to

Nepenthenes ‘Miranda’

After growing lots of house plants you can get bored with the more common ones. This one is sure to catch eyes. This plant is carnivorous. Nepenthes catch bugs and dissolve the bugs in pitchers much as we dissolve food in our stomachs. The pitchers on this guy look large enough to eat very large bugs or even small lizards.

These particular carnivorous plants come from Asia. There are about 100 species in the Nepenthes family. The pitchers form on the ends of leaves, collect a bit of rain water and wait for dinner to arrive. The name Nepethenes comes from Carl Linneaus, and is from the Greek word meaning without pain. According to Homer the pitcher fluid has a highly intoxicating effect. All Asia pitcher plants have the same number of chromosomes making it very easy to cross breed them.

Nepethenes have two main divisions, those that grow in low tropical areas, and those that grow high on the mountains. Miranda is tropical. Both types of nepethenes require high humidity.

Miranda, like the other tropical pitcher plants grows on and under trees. So it does not want or need direct sunlight. The higher growing ones grow at the edges of woods and on mountains and do require lots of light.

Soil should be low in nutrients and acidic. Sphagnum peat moss works well as a potting medium, or a peat moss and soil mixture. The pitcher plants that grow in the mountains prefer a peat moss and sand mixture for potting.

You can and should fertilize this carnivorous plant, but do so lightly and sparingly.

You can put this plant out side in the summer. It needs to be in a shady area if you do that. It MUST be brought back into the house when the temperature nears 50’F. It will not tolerate cold weather. It is extremely cold sensitive.

You want a bright window for this plant, but not direct sun. An east or west window is best. If all your windows are sunny, move it back from the window a bit. It will burn easily. Keep the soil wet and put a little water in each of the pitchers when you water.

The pitchers of nepethenes have three distinct zones. The top’s purpose is to attract prey. This is the lid, the rim of the trap opening, and the inner margin. This area has lots of nectar glands. The rim of the pitcher is ribbed which helps to slide insects into the trap. Some even have fang like ribs. This area also often has scent glands.

Next is the pitfall zone. This begins just beneath the scent glands inside the pitcher. This can usually be seen unaided. It appears waxy and translucent. There are two layers of cells here. The outer layer has crystal like cells that slough off when touched, the inner layer cells are waxy. Together they insure prey falls deep into the pitcher. Over time these cells wear off and in old pitchers prey can sometimes escape.

At the bottom is the digestive area of the pitcher. The digestive glands are located here, larger glands nearer to the bottom. The trap fluid contains all the digestive enzymes and chemicals making the fluid wetter to insure prey gets completely soaked and drowns quickly. As soon as prey has drowned digestion begins. Usually this takes a couple of days. Exoskeletons are partially digested. Rainwater thins out the digestive fluid.

The pitcher liquid in Nepethenes is still used in drinks today. It is also used in native medicines to treat coughs. Roots are cooked to treat stomach troubles and cooked stems are supposed to help with malaria. The vines of some are used in construction.

While nepethenes are widely distributed throughout Asia, each species tends to be very localized.

Possible problems:
-Lack of pitchers; humidity may be too low, or soil may be too rich in nutrients. I find putting an inch or so of sphagnum moss on top of the soil and keeping it moist creates enough humidity so that pitchers form and do well inside in the winter.

( I asked over on Garden Web about the lack of pitchers another grower shared the story of his plant.  It also did not have pitchers for a while but otherwise appeared healthy.  Then it suddenly flowered, and new leaves came with pitchers.  I’m hoping mine does the same. )

Aphids, mealy bugs, scale and thrips can all be a problem for fly traps.  Orthene or some other systematic insecticide is best. Follow the directions on the label.  Do not use soap based insecticides.

Black spot and other fungus can also be trouble.  Captan is the favorite fungicide right now. You should be able to find it at any plant supply store.

I’ve been on a bit of a nepenthes kick lately, the house is full of them. They grow quite easily on windowsills and even catch some of the mosquitoes and flies that get inside.

See also:
1800s guide to growing nepenthes in ‘The Gardeners Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette
Nepenthes around the house
Pea sized frog lives in pitcher plants
Leaves of carnivorous plant emit flower scents to attract prey and the paper
Carnivorous plants
Carnivorous plant eats mouse