DixPix Photographs

     
INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO  
     
  PITCHER PLANTS AND KIN  

 

The "carnivorous" Pitcher Plants, also known as Monkey Cups, are among the most intriguing products of the forests of southeast Asia.  The family name is Nepenthaceae, which pretty well boils down to the genus Nepenthes.  The most common name in Indonesia seems to be Kantong Semar.  Most plants are scrambling vines, which use their liquid traps to supplement nutrition.  There are roughly 120 species, and identification is made difficult both by the wide variation in color and form within species, and by common hybridization.  In fact, there is typically considerable difference between upper and lower 'pots' on the same vine.

The Amaranth family does not look much like Nepenthes, but is a fellow member of the order Caryophyllales.  The family Dilleniaceae is closely related to the Caryophyllales, at least as far as some authorities are concerned. 

 

Nepenthes rajah has the largest pots of any pitcher plant.  It is found here at the sub-alpine level on Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo.  It is endemic to that region and slow-growing, which has made it an endangered species. Click to see big picture (456x480 pixels; 104 KB)
Nepenthes rajah has been known to trap and digest small animals other than insects, even mice.  On the other hand, there are several species, such as certain mosquito nymphs, which live in pitcher plant fluids unharmed. Click to see big picture (407x480 pixels; 108 KB)
While wandering around the high country of Kinabalu, also keep a lookout for Nepenthes villosa, which can be recognized by its frilled lip (technically its peristome).  The species can reach over 3000 m. (10,000 ft.) altitude, the highest of the Nepenthes.  It is endemic to the Kinabalu region. Click to see big picture (597x480 pixels; 134 KB)
Nepenthes lowii, is another strange species from Kinabalu, although it may also be found on other Borneo mountains.  It has a huge, waxy mouth.  Click to see big picture (564x480 pixels; 113 KB)
Another large species from Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo is Nepenthes rafflesiana.  This is a lowland species, which is quite variable, but usually has a huge lid and a squat pitcher. Click to see big picture (640x438 pixels; 146 KB)
From Sumatra, a large, unidentified pitcher plant, with some of the characteristics of N. rafflesiana. Click to see big picture (359x480 pixels; 82 KB)
The Slender Pitcher Plant, Nepenthes gracilis, is common from Thailand to northern Indonesia.  It can usually be recognized by its thin peristome (mouth ring). Click to see big picture (573x480 pixels; 92 KB)
While similar species with wider peristomes and a mid-section kink is likely Nepenthes mirabilis, a feature of swampy ground in Indonesia..  Most specimens have more red markings than this Sarawak example, however. Click to see big picture (316x480 pixels; 63 KB)
In fact pitchers from many Nepenthes species can either be red or turn red with age.  This Sumatran has little in the way of distinctive features. Click to see big picture (569x480 pixels; 75 KB)
A new flower is forming on a Nepenthes glandulifera plant, so named for those black dots which are nectar glands.  This is a Sarawak species but is here planted at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens.
The flowers of an unidentified Nepenthes.  Note that this is technically a panicle, rather than the raceme found with most species. Click to see big picture (640x386 pixels; 130 KB)
A unique lowland species is Nepenthes ampullaria, which forms clusters of rounded cups without lids, ranging from Malaysia to New Guinea.  This form is more usually referred to as Monkey Cups. Click to see big picture (640x353 pixels; 101 KB)
Unlike other members of its genus, Nepenthes ampullaria has adapted to consuming leaf litter, instead of (or in addition to) insects.  This explains the open mouth. Click to see big picture (547x480 pixels; 111 KB)
Perhaps not just cups for monkeys.  This woman collecting N. ampullaria in central Sumatra was translated as explaining that they were for drinking cups.  She is also collecting rubber, however, and perhaps they were to use in that process. Click to see big picture (330x480 pixels; 61 KB)
This colorful, pan-tropical member of the Amaranth Family  Celosia argentea is known by many names, of which Cockscomb and Fire Plant are common in English. The term Jengger Ayam seem the most common in Indonesia. Click to see big picture (363x480 pixels; 87 KB)

The Dilleniaceae Family comprises 12 genera and a few hundred species of tropical plants.  Some authorities put it in the Caryophyllales and others give it its own order, or just let it hang unassigned.  Who cares, it produces some interesting fruits and flowers.

 
Behold the Elephant Apple, Dillenia indica.  This is found through much of southeast Asia, the species name connecting it to India.  It is widely known as Chulta, but here in Sabah, Pampan is more common. Click to see big picture (552x480 pixels; 150 KB)
Chulta is edible, but rather acid.  In India and elsewhere it is hence used to make jellies and curries. Click to see big picture (640x476 pixels; 152 KB)
Dillenia suffruticosa is locally called Simpoh Air and is native to the lowlands of Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra.  It has been widely exported, however, often under the name of Shrubby Dillenia. Click to see big picture (543x480 pixels; 84 KB)
The fruit splits open, reputedly at 3 AM, to take this unusual form.  Its main indigenous use seems to be as a hair wash.  The leaves are large, and widely used to wrap foods. Click to see big picture (606x480 pixels; 93 KB)
Dillenia excelsa has a more handsome flower and is native to Malaysia and Indonesia. It has collected a menagerie of both scientific and local names.  Simpoh ungu seems popular here in Sabah, but many forms of 'Simpur' are also out there. Click to see big picture (557x480 pixels; 77 KB)