Why we ♥ Tropical Pitcher

Tropical pitcher plants in tropical habitats in Australia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Seychelles, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Each species typically grows only in a small area, but several species may live in the same habitat. Like other carnivorous plants, they all grow in areas with nitrogen-poor soil. These beautiful and clever plants collect their nitrogen in hanging, vase-shaped cups, which entice both flying and crawling insects with an intoxicating fragrance, bright color, and sweet nectar.

A "lid" curves over the cup's rim, which is often grooved or toothed, and extra-slippery. Plop! An unwary insect slides inside and soon finds itself drowning in a slick-walled vat of sticky, acidic liquid. Bacteria in a tropical pitcher plant's cups play a role in digestion, just as the bacteria in our gut help us digest our food. You could think of a pitcher plant's cup as its stomach!

For most species, dissolved insects provide the nitrogen these plants need, but some tropical pitcher plants have other, unique ways of getting their fair share of this essential nutrient. For example, the cups of N. ampullaria have open lids and wide mouths that catch falling leaf litter, which produces nitrogen as it decomposes. Without the need to attract insects, this species lacks the sweet scent and bright color common to most of its relatives. A few other species attract small mammals. The plants don't eat the mammals, though; the real prize is the droppings of these animals, which are high in nitrogen.