This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
There is not a more interesting object in the vegetable kingdom, or one that attracts more general admiration, than this wonderful plant. It is almost universally known amongst gardeners and lovers of horticulture by fame, if not otherwise; but many erroneous notions are entertained respecting its structure, etc. The accompanying plate gives, on a very much reduced scale, a fac-simile of a male species, which we noticed as being in bloom in November last. Its absolute height then was 16 feet, branching out about 3 feet; length of the pitchers 11 inches, circumference of them 7 inches, and the flower-spike about 13 inches in height.
In consequence of the genus having male and female organs on different plants, they are referred in the Linna?an arrangement to the class Dicecia. It is a half-shrubby caulescent evergreen climbing-plant, supporting itself in its native habitats on neighbouring trees, against rocks, or amongst herbage. It is the largest of the genus, far surpassing any hitherto known in Europe, and is adorned with two kinds of pitchers or urns, both elegant in their form and brilliant in their colouring; they have an elongated mouth, with a curiously striated margin, the strise terminating internally in teeth, which give a beautiful pectinated appearance to the inner edge; on the apex of the urn is an ovate incumbent membranous operculum or lid, marked with two principal longitudinal nerves, and cuspidate at its base on the back part; this lid folds over similar to a hinge, but has no articulation. The leaves of this plant have dilated folia-ceous petioles, on the ends of which are produced the urns, assuming a pendulous position; the lower ones have their cirrhus, or tendril, not twisted, but coming direct from the stem to the urn; the tendril of the upper leaves has one or two spiral curves about the middle, and terminating in long ascending funnel-shaped urns; the inverted margins of both forms of urns are beautifully and delicately striated and variegated with parallel stripes of a purple, crimson, and yellow colour, and the body of the urn is spotted with brown.
The urns produced on the lower leaves are furnished externally with two membranous wings, fimbriated at the margin, which give them a very peculiar appearance; the upper ones are long, somewhat trumpet-shaped, without wings, and of a totally different character, often ten inches long, and capable of holding a pint of water.
The genus Nepenthes was established by Linnaeus, of which only one species was then known, N. distillatoria, or the Chinese distilling plant, - an admirably characteristic appellation, for in the interior of the unopened pitcher, before any external process can occur, there is a fluid which often fills the urn to the extent of one-third, and which was found by Dr. Turner "to emit, while boiling, an odour like baked apples, from containing a trace of vegetable matter, and to yield minute crystals of superoxalate of potash on being slowly evaporated to dryness." The fluid contained in the unopened urn is tasteless, and resembles water; but after being exposed to the influence of the atmosphere, it becomes mucilaginous, and attracts insects in great numbers, where, in the attempt to suck up the liquor, they become immersed, and are drowned. The flowers of N. distillatoria, when fresh, have a very disagreeable odour; but in N. Raffesiana it is not found.
The geographical distribution of all the species belonging to this genus seems wholly confined to the East Indies and China, where they inhabit shaded jungles, rocky islands, humid forests, or other situations where there is plenty of moisture. Eight species have been found in the western part of Borneo. The present species was found by Dr. Jack, inhabiting a forest in the island of Singapore, with N. ampulacea; and on the return of Captain Bethune from his scientific mission from Borneo, a Wardian case was filled with them, and brought to England, with the plants in a living state; it was received in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in November 1845. They were in good health, and were the first of this species, which is one of the most valuable acquisitions, ever introduced to this country alive; but since, through the enterprising spirit of a few of our principal nurserymen, others have been introduced, and we are now in the possession of nine living species of this genus of Pitcher-plants.
Being natives of a hot humid climate within the tropics, they require the artificial heat of our stoves, where they can have a sufficient supply of moisture: although they will bear a considerable degree of cold with impunity, yet it is only by the application of great warmth, combined with a humid atmosphere, that they can be brought to any degree of perfection. They are most suitable for an Orchidaceous house, where a high temperature is kept; there they generally thrive with vigour. When once established, it is better to let them remain for several years without much shifting; for they become somewhat intractable by removal, and are often lost, or become very languid. A mixture of chopped sphagnum moss, a little sand, turfy peat, and loam, is a good compost to pot them with; supply them freely with water while growing, and let the thermometer range from 70° to 90° Fahrenheit, lowering gradually as they approach the season of rest. An artificial bank, with an undulating surface, formed with stones, broken bricks, and turfy sphagnum moss, makes an excellent receptacle, where the pots can be plunged up to the rim.
From absorbing a quantity of water, a continual evaporation of moisture is always diffused through the atmosphere, which prevents it becoming too dry; by this means the plants are kept in a healthy condition. The bank may be covered with Lycopodiums and a few dwarf-growing ferns, which will give a neat and natural appearance to the whole. By this treatment the various species are cultivated in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where N. Rafflesiana and N. distillatoria are now more than sixteen feet high, very healthy, and bearing abundance of pitchers.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. J. Houlston.