The tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes), also called monkey cups, grows suspended from trees in tropical locations within Australia, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and the Seychelles. A carnivorous plant, it attracts its prey by utilizing the sweet scent of nectar. The unsuspecting insect flies or climbs into the pitcher-shaped foliage of the plant and cannot escape due to the waxy residue within the cup. The insect fights to climb out until it exhausts itself and slips into the water that accumulated within the depth of the pitcher.
The leaves of the pitcher plant form a unique cup shape. Each leaf grows tendrils that wind around the tree for support in a vine-like fashion. At the tip of the tendril, a cup forms. The pitcher-shaped leaf fills with air upon maturity and then liquid forms within its depth. While the growth process takes place the pitcher has a lid over its opening. Once the leaf is mature and filled with liquid the lid retracts so the trap is ready for its insect prey. There are 91 varieties of pitcher plants that produce varying colored pitchers in numerous sizes.
The trap of the pitcher leaf is lined with a waxy substance that flakes away with each step an insect takes within its depth. This flaking causes the insect to slip deeper into the pitcher leaf until it drowns in the liquid. The movement of the insect against the inside of the pitcher causes the plant to being to produce digestive acid within its liquid.
The highly potent digestive acid has the ability to digest larger prey than small insects. In some varieties of pitcher plants, live mice are consumed who unsuspectingly fall into the pitcher's depth. A tiny insect will completely digest in only a few hours.
Some insects venture within the depths of the pitcher plant to claim a fast meal from the decaying prey. Ants often live around the pitcher plant and will brave the depths to fish out pieces of large insects. The ants will carry out the insects to dismember on the edge of the pitcher leaf. As the ant dismembers the insect small particles fall back within the depths of the pitcher plant and are easily digested.
Growth in Captivity
A few varieties of pitcher plants can be grown in captivity in tropical locations. Some pitcher plant species require a daytime temperature between the high 70s to the high 80s Fahrenheit and a nighttime temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Other varieties require higher temperatures that range from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to the upper 90s during the day. Temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can damage the plants.