Nepenthes aristolochioides is so unique as a tropical pitcher plant, that botanists had to name it after an entirely different genus to capture the essence of it. “Oides” is Latin for “like” (as in “similar to something else”), so N. aristolochioides is literally Aristolochia-like. The reason being, Aristolochia (also commonly known as the Dutchman’s pipe) has some neat-o flowers that somewhat resemble the pitcher shape and color of N. aristolochioides. Aristolochia can be further broken into its Latin roots áristos, meaning “best” and lokheía, meaning “childbirth, childbed.”
So, we’ve got a plant named after a plant named because, long ago, it was thought to be helpful in fighting infections during childbirth. Unfortunately, Aristolochia is actually toxic and carcinogenic, so don’t ingest, inject, absorb, or inhale the thing unless you’re looking for kidney failure, or worse. Anyway, enough about the gloomy (but beautiful) Aristolochia!
Nepenthes aristolochioides is super cool and totally not carcinogenic (as far as we’re aware)! It’s a highland Nepenthes that had its holotype collected August 5 of 1956 by Willem Meijer atop Mt. Tujuh in Jambi. That was all folks heard about the pitcher plant for about 32 years, until 1988 when the botanist Joachim Nerz rediscovered the holotype specimen sitting in storage at the herbarium of Leiden University. There was an air of mystery around the specimen as folks questioned the unique positioning of pitcher mouth and peristome as, perhaps, a mishap of the preservation process. Joachim Nerz and Katrin Hinderhofer headed out to Sumatra in 1996 where they rediscovered the wild plant and confirmed its quirky mouth. Field science for the win!
Of course, it wasn’t until May 1997 in an issue of the botanical journal Blumea that Martin Cheek and Matthew Jebb actually, finally, officially described Nepenthes artisolochioides in a monography titled “A skeletal revision of Nepenthes (Nepenthaceae).” Nerz followed this up with a description in the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter in 1998.
Unique biology of Nepenthes aristolochioides
Nepenthes aristolochioides upper pitchers are the defining characteristic of this species. Some would call the pitchers “globose,” others “hunchbacked.” To me, they look like party balloons that have sprung an air leak and are frozen in time mid-deflation. Any way you describe them, N. artisolochioides pitchers are domed with a mouth that faces outwards rather than upwards. The peristome is almost like a little diving board, aiming horizontally into the pitcher, rather than down into the pitcher. I know, it’s all super technical and sciency, but try to keep up, folks.
It is hypothesized to be a lobster-trap style of trap because the back of the pitcher (opposite the mouth) is 30% thinner than other portions of the pitcher surface, and somewhat translucent. This allows light to pass into the pitcher, providing the appearance of an escape rout for insects entering via the mouth. Think of Darlingtonia Californica (Cobra lily) or Sarracenia minor pitchers for analogous trap types in other carnivorous plants.
The peristome remains attached to the pitcher surface at all edges, meaning that there is no “neck” on this Nepenthes, and that the lid emerges directly from the pitcher body. There is a single spur off of the back of the lid, at the upper apex of the peristome. Pitchers are greenish-yellow with a burgundy speckling.
Other notable characteristics
It’s worth noting that lower pitchers on Nepenthes aritolochioides basal shoots are frequently submerged in the soil or moss surrounding them, and do use pitfall trapping mechanisms to snag crawling prey. However, the pitcher plant only produces a small rosette with a few lower pitchers before it begins to climb and branch. Like other climbing Nepenthes, it frequently uses surrounding bushes and trees as support structures. Leaves are slender, and terminate in a coiling tendril that can grasp surrounding object to support the plant’s climbing habit. Stems reach 26 feet (8 meters) in length, along which new rosettes will sprout, providing multiple growth points from where cuttings can be taken.
Unfortunately, for all of its neat trapping mechanisms and gobs of personality, Nepenthes aristolochioides has not been able to survive the onslaught of humans. It is critically endangered as of IUCN’s 2013 Red List with only 60 documented mature plants in the wild. Please, please, please only purchase this plant from reputable nurseries who have propagated the plant in captivity using traditional or tissue culture methods.
If in doubt, or if the price tag is too much, remember that you can always snag a Nepenthes aristolochioides hybrid. They tend to pass on their unique pitcher shape and hybrids can be both less expensive and easier to grow!
Other Nepenthes species & hybrids
With unique domed pitcher shape and outwardly-facing mouth, Nepenthes aristolochioides is instantly recognizable, and with pitfall, lobster, and flypaper traps, the tropical pitcher plant is a jack of all traps. So beautiful, so deadly.
Nepenthes alata is a highly variable, widely grown, and hugely rewarding tropical pitcher plant. It's great for beginners looking to cut their teeth on an easy-to-grow and pitcher-prolific species.
A heavy-hitting lowland Nepenthes species with broad variability and even broader size. It was treasured by Victorian-era botanists for its beauty and it's easy to see why, even today.
To say Nepenthes ampullaria is unique, among a sea of unique Nepenthes, would be an understatement. The plant leans heavily on a vegetarian diet, playing host to critters that help it digest debris that falls from the forest canopy above.
Nepenthes albomarginata looks like it’s going on a date, all dressed up with a classy white collar. The characteristic band of white under the peristome serves a unique purpose, though - and it’s not for attracting the ladies or gents - rather, a specific type of prey.
Known as the "splendid pitcher plant" for good reason. It combines the most beastly characteristics of a flanged, spikey peristome with the handsome refinement of a cylindrical pitcher shape. It's like a lion in a tuxedo - it will bite your face off, but will do it with style.
Nepenthes robcantleyi x hamata
This gorgeous hybrid Nepenthes is what happens when you take two beauties, N. robcantleyi and N. hamata, and make a celebrity baby.
This tropical pitcher plant has black pitchers and a branched spur on the backside of where the lid and peristome meet. - Kind of like cowboy spurs, but less pokey.
Nepenthes lowii x truncata
This robust Nepenthes hybrid adopts the huge peristome of N. truncata pitchers and gaping mouth and lid of N. lowii. It's truly one beast of a tropical pitcher plant!
With knife-sharp hooks for a peristome, Nepenthes hamata is insect nightmare fuel and, hands-down, the most vicious looking tropical pitcher plant. If I were an insect, I'd refer to this as a Nope-enthes.
Ever imagine what would happen if a vampire bit a Nepenthes? Really? Me too! Well, wonder no more. Nepenthes bicalcarata is our fanged tropical pitcher plant.
Tropical Pitcher Plant
The Tropical Pitcher Plant, or Nepenthes, is an exotic and refined bug catcher. Some even grow large enough to catch small mammals.
The ol' toilet bowl for tree shrews. This tropical pitcher plant is famous for its odd upper pitchers that are not only shaped like toilets, but also act as actual toilets to climbing critters lucky enough to stumble across their secrets.
With upper pitchers like dainty cocktail glasses filled with honey, Nepenthes inermis is a fascinating carnivorous plant that uses both flypaper and pitfall trapping mechanisms.
With a peristome you can serve dinner off of, pitcher volume you can cary 2 liters of soda in, and a hunger that will decimate annoying insects, it's the perfect picnic guest
Translation of sanguinea is "blood red" - suiting name for a Nepenthes with pitchers so red that they almost appear purple.
Nepenthes x ventrata
The name is a combination of "ventricosa" and "alata," like "Brangelina" but with Nepenthes. Because it's easy to grow, popular in cultivation, and has a celebrity name, it's a star in my book.
is an extravagant, fuzzy tropical pitcher plant that hugs and climbs tree trunks as an epiphyte.
Nepenthes mikei Nepenthes mikei is a beautiful highland tropical pitcher plant discovered in 1989 by Bruce Salmon, Ricky Maulder, and Mike Hopkins on an expedition to Mount Pangulubao in Sumatra. The plant was first [...]
Nepenthes truncata A grand lowland Nepenthes, N. truncata is known to swallow entire rats whole. How can you tell? The smell, unfortunately. And the bones. They don't digest the calcium-heavy bones. Nepenthes truncata is [...]