This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The curious family of pitcher plants known under the name of nepenthes is among the anomalies of the vegetable kingdom. It has no known relations. Some botanists have thought they saw some connection between them and Euphorbias, but this is acknowledged to be but a distant connection at best. Others again have supposed there was some affinity between them and the curious Aristolochia; but even this is more from the structure of the plant than from any similarity in the floral organs, on which relationships are more commonly supposed to depend.
All of these considerations have value in connection with the question of the origin of species. If one genus has grown out of, or proceeded from another or others, there must have been a severe destruction of intermediate forms to leave this singular one standing so very much alone. It may be a very old family. There may have been forms branching off from this - younger species - and these have been swept away, leaving the parents still to live longer; or these plants may be of a modern origin, of which the whole ancestry is lost. Probably most biologists would be inclined to the latter view - in which case we might inquire what it is which has given these plants the power to maintain an existence as against the ancestors which have been destroyed. Unless we knew exactly what these ancestors were, and what powers they possessed, it would not be possible to decide positively; but, in the view that these are modern introductions, we may suppose that the ancestors were much like other plants, which had not the pitcher-like appendages to the leaves which these plants possess. They are swamp plants, growing in the warmer parts of the East Indies and China, and what possible use they are to the plants, any more than pitchers would be to any other plants, no one has been able to suggest.
The water in them is rather a tax on the energies of the plant. In our American pitcher plants the liquid secretion has often numerous insects which seem to have been drowned therein, and these insects seem to aid in the nutrition of the plant. But no one appears to have noted that the nepenthes catch insects, and Darwin makes no mention of them among his " Insectivorous Plants".
Again, among all the various forms of nepenthes, what is there in one form that should have called it into existence as a point of advantage over the forms which characterize its brethren? In this particular species, Nepenthes Rajah, the pitchers are enormous. The drawing shows one of only half the natural size. It is six inches in diameter and twelve inches long. Some species have pitchers not a quarter of this size, and yet for all we see they get along just as well as that with this enormous pitcher, requiring such an enormous tax on the plant's resources to draw water up from the root, and to sustain the weight. Even the lid is ten inches long and eight broad, and one might say performed some good work in covering the mouth of the pitcher, and preventing a too rapid evaporation; but there are other species, with small and nearly erect lids, and these again seem to get along just as well in the " struggle for life." Besides this there are innumerable other points in which they vary from one another; and yet no one will say that any one is better equipped for the great fight than another. "While these and other reflections will always occur to those who love to endeavor to penetrate the great mysteries of nature, there is yet one which needs no solution - the question of its wonderful construction and singular beauty.
It is one of the great wonders of the vegetable world, and was long ago described by Sir Joseph Hooker, and named by him in honor of the celebrated Rajah Brooke. It has recently been introduced to culture from Borneo, by the enterprise of the celebrated firm of James Veitch & Sons, of Chelsea, London. It is rather expensive yet - $25 is the price set on a single plant.