Tropical Pitcher Plant Care

Nepenthes rafflesiana, gracilis, & Other Species

Tropical pitcher plant information. Flowers of Nepenthes rafflesiana, gracilis, and ampullaria growing in the rainforest in Borneo. How to grow carnivorous pitcher plants in hanging baskets.


Nepenthes ampullaria growing on the rainforest floor.

The bug-eating Nepenthes grows as a vine in the tropical rainforests of the Far East.  It is especially prevalent in Borneo where it scrambles into trees and creeps across the forest floor.


How the Pitcher Plant Flower is Formed

Digestive fluid inside the cups of N. ampullaria.

Nepenthes rafflesiana luring insects into its monkey cup.

The exotic flowers, which are sometimes called monkey cups, are actually part of the leaves.  Some of the lance-shaped leaves narrow into long tendrils at their tips which the plant uses to grab onto whatever support happens to be nearby.  Other leaves form colored cups at their tips.

The cups range in size from a mere few inches to more than a foot in length, depending on the species.  Each cup has a lid of some sort though, as in the case of N. ampullaria, it may not overhang the cup.  The cups may rest on the ground or hang from a support by a tendril, and are filled with a fluid that dissolves the bodies of hapless insects which fall into it.

N. rafflesiana is the best pitcher plant for beginners to grow.

Care of Tropical Pitcher Plants

The cup or flower of Nepenthes hookerii.

N. hookerii foliage.

Growing Tip:

N. ampullaria grows from a sizeable rhizome.  Plant it in a waterlily basket.

High humidity is a must.  Especially in hot weather. 

Light: Shade plants from the hottest sun of the day which may burn the foliage.

Water: Careful watering is critical to success with this tropical rainforest plant.  Even moisture is optimal.  Nepenthes must never become waterlogged or dry out.

Fertilizer: Unlike most carnivorous plants, Nepenthes benefit from fertilization. Apply a high nitrogen water soluble plant food each week during warm weather.  Feed plants once a month during the rest of the year.

Soil: A coarse, fast-draining potting mix works best.  To make your own, mix orchid bark with a peat-based potting mix in a 50/50 ratio.

Grow plants in hanging pots or orchid baskets.  When they become too large or unattractive, cut the top growth back to 6 inches and let it regrow.


Pitcher Plant Temperature Preferences

The hooded cups of Nepenthes gracilis.

Nepenthes 'Rebecca Soper'

Don't Know What Species You Have?

Most of the hybrids are lowland types.  If you are unsure of what you've got, it is safest to treat it like a lowland species.

There are lowland and highland species.

Lowland Nepenthes enjoy hot, humid weather and will stop growing at temperatures below 60 degrees F.  These types, which include N. ampullaria and N. rafflesiana, will tolerate temperatures as low as 55 degrees F.

Highland Nepenthes grow at higher altitudes in nature and require cooler air than the lowland types.  They tend to sulk when the mercury climbs above 70 degrees F.  You can pull them through by providing good air circulation and increasing the humidity at this time.

Highland types also need to be kept cooler in the winter.  45-55 degrees F. is optimal.

Nepenthes alata and N. ventricosa are highland species.


Meat-eating Pitcher Plant Propagation

Tropical pitcher plants being propagated in glass flasks.

Pitcher plants growing in hanging pots.

Take tip cuttings of side shoots with a heel.  Stem sections which contain at least two nodes will also work. 

Root the cuttings in sphagnum moss.

For faster results, dip your cuttings into rooting hormone.

Set the cuttings in a warm, humid, shady spot while you wait for them to root.

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Related Pages:

The Lobster Claw Plant

Light Requirements of Indoor Plants

Easy Care Tropical Houseplants

The 3 Most Important Tropical Landscape Design Principles

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