Hold up, I’m not done describing Nepenthes ampullaria‘s funky form of carnivory – it has a few more tricks up its peristome that, together, make a very convincing argument for its vegetarian inclinations.
• I hate mosquitoes. You hate mosquitoes. N. ampullaria loves mosquitoes. Infaunal organisms (the name we’ve given organisms that inhabit the pitchers of Nepenthes) like mosquito larvae breakdown leaf debris and help transfer nitrogen from it to the plant through the excretion of ammonium ions. Bacteria also do the same thing with leaf debris. What does this mean? – I won’t go into gruesome detail, but N. ampullaria is quite literally a potty-mouth. Sounds familiar? That’s because N. lowii and N. rajah use a similar, albeit more explicit, nutrient-gathering technique.
• N. ampullaria lacks the specialized cells that make the peristome slippery and causes insects fall into its mouth. It is one of just a few species in the genus to lack these “lunate” cells.
• The plant has very few, and sometimes completely lacks nectar glands. Nectar normally helps attracts insect prey to the plant.
• In lower pitchers, the glandular cells inside the pitcher that help absorb nutrients extend almost all the way to the peristome. This doesn’t leave any room for a waxy zone that would keep captured prey from getting a foothold and escaping digestion.
• Digesting leaf debris takes time. The pitchers of N. ampullaria are relatively long-lived, as the plant slowly accumulates infaunal-excreted nutrients over time.
• N. ampullaria produces an abundance of runners and offshoots – a bit unusual for Nepenthes. The result is a “carpet” of pitchers covering the soil, increasing the likelihood that falling leaves find their way into an open mouth. This characteristic was noted in Troll’s 1932 account of the species and translated by Francis Ernest Lloyd:
“I came across N. ampullaria among the massive vegetations of a swamp-forest on the island of Siberut off the west coast of Sumatra. It was a fabulous, unforgettable sight. Everywhere, through the network of lianas the peculiarly-formed pitchers of this species gleamed forth, often in tight clusters and, most remarkably, the muddy moss-overgrown soil was spotted with the pitchers of this plant, so that one got the impression of a carpet.”
Ok, now I’m done talking about how the plant snags lunch. Moving on to stems, Nepenthes ampullaria vines, producing very few pitchers as they climb. At some point during this vining, a new growth point will sprout and produce a cluster of mid-air pitchers. This makes propagation via cuttings fairly easy. When cuttings are taken, N. ampullaria will readily produce basal shoots and form bushy clusters of ground pitchers.