Rat-Eating Plant Discovered
Posted by shadmia on August 20, 2009
The famed TV naturalist Sir David Frederick Attenborough, who has spent half a century as the respected voice and face of many natural history programs for the BBC was honored by having a recently discovered species of the pitcher plant named after him: Nepenthes attenboroughii
“It’s just a compliment,” Attenborough told The Times of London, “but it’s very nice to receive compliments.”
However, Nepenthes attenboroughii, discovered on the Philippine island of Palawan, is no ordinary pitcher plant. It is carnivorous and big enough to capture and devour rodents.
Rodents and insects that fall into the “pitcher” can be trapped and slowly consumed by its flesh-eating enzymes. That ability has led some headline-writers to dub the plant a “Venus Rat-Trap.”
In fact Nepenthes attenboroughii appears to be a close relative of another pitcher plant: Nepenthes rajah from Borneo. Nepenthes rajah is thought to be the only species of pitcher plant larger than the newly named Nepenthes attenboroughii. See the video clip below:
Nepenthes attenboroughii was discovered on Mount Victoria on the Philippine island of Palawan. The first reports of its existence came from two Christian missionaries who in 2000 attempted to scale Mount Victoria. They got lost for 13 days before being rescued, but they reported seeing the giant pitcher plant.
Three pitcher plants experts: Stewart McPherson and Alastair Robinson from Britain and Volker Heinrich from the Philippines heard these reports and in 2007 set out on a two-month expedition to find this exotic new plant.
On their way to Mount Victoria they discovered strange pink ferns, a new species of sundew and blue mushrooms which they could not identify. During the expedition, the team also encountered another pitcher plant, Nepenthes deaniana, which had not been seen in the wild for 100 years.
As they neared the summit of Mount Victoria the forest thinned out until eventually they were walking among scrub and large boulders.
“At around 1,600 meters (almost 1 mile) above sea level, we suddenly saw one great pitcher plant, then a second, then many more,” McPherson recounts. “It was immediately apparent that the plant we had found was not a known species.”
“The plant produces spectacular traps which catch not only insects, but also rodents. It is remarkable that it remained undiscovered until the 21st century,” McPherson was quoted as saying.
This pitcher plant does not appear to grow in large numbers, but McPherson hopes the remote, inaccessible mountain-top location, which has only been climbed a handful of times, will help prevent poachers from reaching it. The team has placed type specimens of the new species in the herbarium of the Palawan State University.