Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Pitcher Plant of India

A pitcher plant is a carnivores plant that 'eats' flies, insects and insect larvae to get nutrition. Insectivores or carnivores plants are actually fascinating, they look like normal plants, with roots, stems and lovely flowers; but when you see them in action, you see a wonderful mechanism provided by nature to them to become accomplished hunters. It is indeed marvelous to see a plant capture a fly and then digest it leaving just a husk behind.

Now that you are familiar with the category the pitcher plant belongs to, let us become a little more specific about this particular genus. The pitcher plant is called so because it has a pitcher like  cupped form of leaves with a lid. In this 'pitcher' these plants capture their prey. These plants belong to the nepenthes genus.


During my stay in the village of Meghalaya, we went to this power plant which is situated up in the Khasi Hills. Here I saw a peculiar sort of a plant every where among the hills.





 


The locals told me it was the Tiew rakot plant, found here in abundance; but when the power plant engineer told me it was the pitcher plant, and was an endangered species I couldn't believe my eyes and my ears! I remember asking him,'The pitcher plant? The one that eats flies and insects?'. The answer I got was affirmative, and the feeling I got was that I was a part of one of the Discovery Channel shows!


I could not believe my stroke of luck to find an endangered carnivores plant in the hills of India. But there were more surprises in store for me. Do you see a pitcher like growth in the above image? With a closed lid?
Well that is the food bowl of the plant. All the insects, flies, larvae are caught in that pitcher shaped organ and then digested in it. Gross, isn't it?


So, here I am amid the scenic beauty of the Khasi Hills, still trying to digest the fact that I am here among the abundant growth of pitcher plants, when I see my lovely local friends jumping up and down the hilly slopes there hands full of the pitchers of the plant.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw them opening the pitcher and drinking its contents as if it were the elixir of life. It took a lot of self control not to throw up to see them drinking from the fly digesting innards of a plant. What I found out later was that this 'water' trapped in the pitchers was of medicinal value and could cure stomach and kidney problems. They asked me to sample one, but for me the idea was still too gross, I just did not have that sort of guts to taste that fluid. Yuck! Anyways to try and convince my friends not to offer me this drink, without hurting their feelings was a tough job. But eventually they stopped forcing me.

They filled the rest in a bottle and after that I remained thirsty till we reached back to the village, eyeing each bottle of water offered to me suspiciously. I do believe them, it must be having some undiscovered medicinal value. But for me I was satisfied to carry a specimen of the plant to take back home. Later, at home I did a bit of research and found that it was the only pitcher plant India has and goes by the botanical name of Nepenthes khasiana. 

It is a marvelous plant, the wonders of Creator reflecting in its uniqueness. All I hope and pray is that it should not become an extinct species. Discovery Channel, here I come!