This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
These remarkable plants are little handled by the commercial florist, but are so striking and curious that all are interested in a knowledge of them. They are an important genus in that family of plants which are now known as insectivorous and to which the great Darwin devoted a volume as the result of his marvelous research. The Dionaea muscipula (Venus' fly trap), from Carolina, is the most familiar of the insectivorous plants. Others are its close relative, the drosera, of our northern swamps, and again the familiar sar-racenia.
The nepenthes are called pitcher plants, because the extension of the leaf terminates in the perfect form of a pitcher, lid and all. If they were not called pitcher plants they would remind you much of the large German pipes, five or six inches in the bowl, which usually have a cover. What part the pitcher bears to the economy of the plant is not fully determined, but the fluid held in the pitcher contains bacteria which are capable of digesting nitrogenous matter. If an insect, a fly or bee once explores the depths of the pitcher he is gone. They are incapable of climbing up by the interior walls of the pitchers and are finally drowned, to their discomfiture, but probably to the benefit of the plant, hence they are called insectivorous, or insect-eating plants.
They are nearly all the most tropical of tropical plants, found in Borneo, Madagascar, Ceylon and pretty close to the equator. The pitchers hang on for months in perfect condition if not accidentally or purposely emptied of their fluid, which they never should "be, or they will shrivel up.
Although plants requiring a very high temperature, they are not at all difficult to grow providing you have heat and moisture. I have enumerated several of the finest and best known, but there are many hybrids of great beauty.
Propagation: They are not difficult to propagate by cuttings, which should be three or four eyes of the tip of a shoot, placed in sand and kept moist. The cuttings should be in a propagating case in a warm house. and the sand should be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the house, or about 80 to 85 degrees. May and June are good months to propagate and the cuttings will root in three or four weeks.
Rooted plants should be grown in hanging wooden baskets. Shade in the summer is necessary. Our summer nights are often too cool to grow the nepenthes well and a gentle fire heat is essential the year around. The lowest night temperature in winter should not be less than 70 degrees. The baskets should be filled one-third their depth with clean crocks and then the roots of the nepenthes should be filled in with equal parts of fern roots and good sphagnum moss, rounding up the surface of the basket with good live sphagnum.
The daily spraying will be sufficient without water, and in summer spray them twice a day. What they want is an atmosphere fairly reeking with moisture. The more moist your atmosphere the more your pitcher plants will thrive.
The following all have grand pitchers: N. Dominii, Mastersiana, Mor-ganiana, Rafflesiana, Veitchii, Williamsii, Madagaseariensis. As the names of the above will denote, some of them are garden hybrids.
The lamented Mr. Court, who represented Messrs. Veitch, of London, and who made many trips to this country, was an enthusiast on these curious plants, and whoever saw the collection of nepenthes at Chelsea, as the writer did in 1885, could not fail to see that this wonderful collection of grotesque exotics were perfectly at home. One of the handsomest hybrids raised by Mr. Court bears his name. The pitchers on some of the largest are eight inches long by three inches in width.