Pitcher Plant Care: Learn To Grow The Carnivorous Nepenthes

The “Pitcher Plant” Nepenthes [nee-pen’-theez] is perfect for those with green thumbs.

Nepenthes tends to be a bit of a challenge to grow. It’s a carnivorous plant type with a unique look requiring special care.

Tropical Pitcher plants - Nepenthes - growing in a hanging basket

The strange “pitchers” growing on the ends of Nepenthes leaves gives the plant its common name of “pitcher plant.”

Nepenthes are also called “Monkey Cups.” The name reportedly comes from monkeys who occasionally drink the fluid in the pitchers.

These growths design helps trap and digest food to keep the plant fed.

There are over 70 species of Nepenthes plants (23 lowlands, 48 cool highlands). They are native to parts of the Philippines, northern Australia, and Malaysia.

Related: How To Care For A Venus Fly Trap

Monkey cup plants make wonderful hanging baskets and conversation starters. Below are some growing tips to care for this unusual plant.

Nepenthes Pitcher Plant Care

How Big Do Nepenthes Grow?

The tropical Pitcher Plant is a climbing plant and sometimes semi-shrubby. But, most people grow them as hanging plants. This allows the unique leaves to dangle.

The stems often reach up to 16″ inches and are slow growers. You may wonder whether your plant will produce the pitcher leaves. In some cases, the leaves may never show up.

Does Nepenthes Flower or Have A Fragrance?

The carnivorous plant rarely flowers during cultivation.

When these plants do flower, the flower clusters are on stems separate from the leaves with the pitcher lobes.

The flowers have no fragrance and vary in color.

What Kind Of Lighting Do Pitcher Plants Need?

Don’t place plants of Nepenthes in direct sunlight. The intense light can damage the leaves and cause the plant to dry out.

If possible, look for a shady spot and keep the plant in warm conditions.

During the summer, the recommended temperature range is 70° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit.

In the winter, keep the tropical pitcher Nepenthes at 70° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.

The temperature range doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. This is one of the reasons why these plants are difficult to care for.

TIP: Growing as a bathroom plant Nepenthes will enjoy the humidity and stable temperature. Plants may need additional lighting in bathrooms.

Watering and Feeding These Carnivorous Plants

DO NOT FERTILIZE with this plant. Stick to water.

Water the carnivorous plants often to prevent the soil from drying out. Mist almost daily, especially during the warmer months.

Humidity is essential to the health of these plants. If it dries out, it will die.

What “Type of Soil” Does Nepenthes Grow In?

Many growers use several inches of moist sphagnum moss, or peat moss to plant carnivorous Nepenthes.

The sphagnum and peat moss hold water, insuring the roots don’t dry out.

Never transplant unless it’s necessary. The plant is unlikely to survive the process.

What Maintenance Or Grooming Does Nepenthes Plants Need?

Nepenthes need no major grooming. But, if you see withered leaves or pitchers, trim them off so that new ones can grow.

How To Propagate The Pitcher Plant

Propagate Nepenthes from either seeds or cuttings.

How To Start Plants From Seed

Seeds of pitcher plants start easily on a bed of sphagnum moss. To start seeds you’ll need:

  • Nepenthes seed
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Sterile water
  • Gallon-size glass jar with lid

Follow these steps:

  • Sterilize the jar including the bed of moss in a 200° degree Fahrenheit oven.
  • Remoisten the moss with sterilized water
  • Sprinkle the pitcher plant seeds onto the moss
  • Cover the jar lid (or small sheet of glass)
  • Keep the jar where there is light
  • Maintain temperature at 70° to 90° degrees Fahrenheit
  • Maintain until the seedlings are ready to pot

Propagation By Cuttings

Propagation is possible using cuttings, sphagnum moss and plastic bags. Follow these steps.

  • Take 6″ inch cuttings in the early spring
  • Put several inches of moist sphagnum moss in the bottom of the plastic bag.
  • Push the end of the cuttings into the moss
  • Close the top tightly
  • Place the sealed bag in a place with light but NOT direct sun.
  • Pot when roots are visible

Keep in mind successful propagation comes with time.

This finicky plant is a challenge to grow, especially when growing from a cutting.

Nepenthes Pests or Disease Problems

You shouldn’t experience any pest problems with the pitcher plant. In fact, pests should watch out for this carnivorous plant.

The pitcher leaves trap and digest insects. Each pitcher contains about a 1/2″ to 1″ inch layer of digestive juices.

Insects that fall into the “pitcher” drown. The digestive juices dissolve and break down the insect into proteins.

These proteins are then absorbed by the plant.

While you don’t need to worry about insects, you may need to worry about various health issues.

Plants can suffer from weak growth and yellowed leaves. This is often the result of excess moisture or low temperatures.

If the plant looks weak, increase the temperature and ensure that you’re misting it daily.

TIP: Consider using purified water instead of tap water. The tap water may contain nutrients that can harm the plant.

If you notice the plant is no longer growing new leaves or pitchers, you may be overfeeding. Avoid watering for several weeks. Starving it may help the new pitchers grow.

NOTE: If plants are overfed, it doesn’t have a need to produce new pitchers. The pitchers are used for capturing and digesting captured prey (insects).

Continue to mist the plant regularly during this period.

Suggested “Starter Carnivorous Pitchers” For Beginners

You’ll find many types of pitcher plants. The beginner should start with the recommended varieties below:

Nepenthes alata – native to the Philippines. Many bright green pitchers.

Nepenthes khasiana – Hindu Kush Mountains, endangered. Good, long green pitchers. Only pitcher plant species native to India.

Nepenthes ventricosa – Philippines. Flourishes under cool, moist treatment.

Nepenthes rajah – Colorful greenish-red to reddish purple pitchers with a large umbrella. Does well in “fern-like atmosphere.”

Nepenthes rafflesiana – Malacca, Borneo and Sumatra, wide distribution. Interesting and colorful pitchers, variable. One of the best.

Nepenthes gracilis – Malaysia. Easy to grow. Most abundant species. Small green pitchers.

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