Coraline walks into the garden and what is the first plant she sees...

Nepenthes rafflesiana - Pitcher Plant

and inside this plant pops out a frog... sadly, this is not very realistic.

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Let's start from the beginning:


Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Tracheophyta

Class: Magnoliopsida

Order: Caryophyllales

Family: Nepenthaceae

Genus: Nepenthes

Species: Neppenthes rafflesiana (Jack)

(ITIS, 2010)

Origins and Relatives

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The Nepenthes rafflesiana can most likely be found in the southeaster region of the Malay Peninsula and the west coast of Sumatra. The genus comprises almost one hundred species, often endemics with a narrow distribution, and is distributed from New Guinea west to Madagascar and from India south to Australia, with two hotspots of diversity in Borneo and Sumatra" (Gaume & Di Giusto, 2009). Typically Nepenthes grow in tropical-like conditions where it is wet and sandy.
Many of its family members also originate from this location; specifically around Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Some of these species are critically endangered like the Nepenthes dubia and the Nepenthes rajah; some are vulnerable to extinction like the Nepenthes lowii and the Nepenthes bicalcarata; and then there are ones like the N. albomarginata and the N. ampullaria, in which both happen to be hybrids of the N. rafflesiana plant. All these relatives, and as Gaume and Di Giusto had said, "the genus comprises almost one hundred species", are pitcher plants. To see some of the other relatives of the Nepenthes Genus click on the following link: List of Nepenthes species .

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Nepenthes rafflesiana
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Nepenthes ampullaria
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Nepenthes rajah
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Nepenthes bicalcarata

Characteristics of Nepenthes

As I had said above, the Nepenthes are all pitcher plants, and they happen to also be pitfall traps. On the top of this page I had mentioned that the frog popping back up after falling into one of these pitcher plants is not likely. Most pitcher plants, including the N. rafflesiana, are insect or ant eaters, but sometimes a wondering frog or rat can fall right into the pitchers trap. There are three functional parts of a pitcher plant: there is the peristome, which is the lip of the plant that surrounds the cup; there is the slippery wax zone, which is lined on the walls of the plant inside the cup; and then there is the digestive zone, where digestive acid is secreted into the cup to kill and dissolve its' prey. (Gaume & Di Giusto, 2009).

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The crystaline wax layer on the inner wall of the pitcher plant prevents insects from adhering to the plant. This lack of grip on the plants peristome causes the insects to fall into the pitcher, to which is half full of digestive fluid (Bauer, Willmes & Federle, 2009). Insects are attracted to the pitcher plants because of their bright colors and sweet scent. Ant, the primary prey for pitcher plants, are attracted to the "extrafloral nectar" that the plants produce. The smell and appearance are only the first stage in the pitchers plant regime in order to obtain its' food. Once the plant has its prey, the falling begins. Because of the waxy coat on the peristome, the ants or any other animal, can not stick to the plant without falling, and that is exactly what the pitcher plant is hoping for. The ants fall right into the pitcher and dunked in a pool of digestive acid. They try to get out, but as mentioned, one of the key characteristics to the pitcher plant is its slippery wax zone. The inner wall is covered with the same wax that was on the peristome. Due to the lack of grip and the fact that these animals are swimming in a vat of digestive acid, they inevitably die and are digested for nutrients. To be fair, these plants are only doing what they need to in order to survive. Due to the poor nutrient soil, pitcher plants rely on there special mechanisms so that they can get their nutrients from other animals.
Ants falling prey to Pitcher Plant
Gruesome! Rat eaten by Pitcher Plant

Before you go out screaming and pulling pitcher plants out of people's yards, let me just say that Nepenthes have other ways of obtaining nutrients besides eating animals.Many of the pitcher plants also get their nutrients from feces. Different animals like shrews and bats use the pitcher as a "toilet"; Jeanna Bryner writes, "video observations showed mountain tree shrews (Tupaia montana) jumping onto the plants, licking nectar from the underside of the leaf that sits atop each plant's opening and defecating into the pot." (Bryner, 2009). She goes on to say that the pitcher plants have "an agreement" where each party benefits. In mountainous areas, insects can be scarce; pitcher plants gain the nutrients from the animals' feces, and the shrews get some sweet nectar in return.


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The leaf and the root are used to relieve a variety of different ailments such as:

Digestive Problems

Urinary Tract Diseases



Cure for Smallpox

Prevents Scars

neck pain.jpgThe Pitcher plants has a variety of tannins and an extract called, Sarapin,nepenthes sarapin.jpg
which is given as a shot to help relieve back, neck, and digestive tract problems (WebMD)



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Many people have pitcher plants in their yards not only for its amazing color and interesting shape,
but also because it eat and digests insects and other animals that threaten the growth of other plants in one's garden.
Because it is used to not growing in rich soil, the Pitcher Plants use their variety of trapping mechanisms to capture animals and absorb their nutrients.If you want a pesticide free garden or if you want to know how to grow a Pitcher Plant in your yard, follow the link below:

How to Grow a Pitcher Plant
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Nepenthes rafflesiana flower
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Nepenthes rafflesiana fruit


Being an education major I thought it would be fun to create a Lesson Plan
Plants Eating Animals! How and Why?!

First - Have students draw a carnivorous plant. What they think a carnivorous plant would look like.
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Second - Have students share what they drew and why

Third - Ask students where they have seen carnivorous plants before? MOVIES!
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Fourth - Show students pictures of plants: some that look harmless and dangerous. Have students guess which are dangerous
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Chinese Black Bat Flower

Fifth - Tell students which are dangerous (Watch their faces smile!)
Sixth - Show a short clip on Carnivorous plants
Carnivorous Plants! How Do They Do It!

Seventh- Teach students about some carnivorous plants and how they catch their prey
- Species
- Where do they grow
- What types of animals do they eat
- Why do they eat animals
- What techniques do they use to catch prey
- Are they dangerous to humans

Eighth - Have students look up a carnivorous species for homework - create a 6 slide power point answering all the points listed in seventh step

Keep an eye out for more dangerous plants in movies!
"Coraline" - Mysterious Garden

3 plants hidden in the garden...
Pitcher Plant (Carnivorous) ---------------------- Ghost Plant (Creepy) --------------------------- Bleeding Heart (Toxic)
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Bauer, U., Willmes, C., & Federle, W. (2009). Effect of pitcher age on trapping efficiency and natural prey capture in carnivorous nepenthes rafflesiana plants.Annals of Botany, 103, Retrieved from

Bryner, J. (2009). Pitcher plant doubles as toilet.LiveScience, Retrieved from

Gaume, L., & Di Giusto, B. (2009). Adaptive significance and ontogenetic variability of the waxy zone in nepenthes rafflesiana. Annals of Botany, 104(7), Retrieved from

ITIS. Nepenthes taxonomic report. (2010). Retrieved from

WebMD. (n.d.). Pitcher plant. Retrieved from PLANT.aspx?activeIngredientId=103&activeIngredientName=PITCHER PLANT