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History Of Nepenthes

How close they came to being called Cantherifera.....

This is a fun timeline of the history of Nepenthes. My own colorful comments are in blue color. This separates the truth from a little comedy to make the reading more entertaining.

Here we have the first record of a Nepenthes plant. Etienne de Flacourt, the governor of the French colony of Madagascar, called the plant Anramitaco. This is the plant we know today as N. madagascierensis.

Bartholinus describes a plant which he calls Miranda herba. This is the plant we now know as N. distillatoria. There are some possible records of this plant a few years before or after this date, but pretty much 20 years has nearly passed since N. madagascierensis before we have record of the second Nepenthes. In 1680 Jacob Breyn called this plant Bandura zingalensium, a name which stuck for 60 years until Linnaeus created the name we have all come to love by now; Nepenthes. In 1683 Grimm called the plant Planta mirabilis distillatoria, which means miraculous distilling plant. This was before the plants were suspected of being carnivorous, and it was believed that the plants distilled the water in the pitchers for human consumption. This was not an entirely far fetched idea, as numerous travelers including Burbidge drank the fluid in the pitchers when a source of water could not be found.
(Yes, they were talking about the insect laden pitchers, not just the unopened pitchers! Burbidge had to use the insect filled pitchers as a source of water on one of his climbs of Mt. Kinabalu. I believe he said that even though the pitchers were insect-laden, the pitcher fluid was quite pallatable. Let's all pause for a brief moment so that I may gag uncontrollably. )

Rumphias completes his incredible work on the Herbarium Amboinensis, a 6 volume manuscript, after much tribulation. In 1670 Rumphias became blind and had to enlist the aid of others to help him complete his work. In 1687, with the project nearing completion, a fire claimed about half of the illustrations that were to be used in his work. Forging on, Rumphias and his aids completed the book in 1690. In the Herbarium Amboinensis Rumphius calls the pitcher plants "Cantherifera." Cantherifera is thought to be what we now know as N. mirabilis. Rumphius also lists Cantherifera alba, which is thought to be N. maxima. The volumes of his work were sent to Governor-General Johannes Camphuijs before being sent to the Netherlands to be published. Camphuijs was so impressed with Herbarium Amboinensis that he had a set for his own personal use copied. This proved to be a miraculaous stroke of fortune, as the ship carrying the volumes to the Netherlands was attacked by the French and sank, and down with it went the 6 volumes of Herbarium Amboinensis. Rumphias and his team of aids, who probably by now have all six volumes permanently memorized forever, start again. Five years later the Herbarium Amboinensis finally arrived in the Netherlands. It is not immediately published, however, which is really another tragedy in of itself. If it had been published within the next 30 years, Nepenthes would have been called Cantherifera by the rules of nomenclature. It is not published until 45 years pass.
(Ok, you've got to be kidding me. This guy Rumphius creates this monumental 6 volume set. He goes blind, and has to have help from others to finish. Right before he completes his work, half his illustrations are lost in a fire. He continues on and finishes the work. The boat that the manuscript was being transported on was sank by the french. He completes the work again, AND THEY DONT PUBLISH IT FOR 45 YEARS!!!   Will someone please give Rumphius a laptop computer, word processor,  a set of backup diskettes, and internet access please!!!?????)

Linnaeus reorganizes the scientific nomenclature into the system we use today. He publishes the genus name Nepenthes. He describes N. madagascierensis and N. distillatoria. This comes 40 years after Rumphius calls them Cantherifera, in the yet to be published Herbarium Amboinensis.

Rumphius' work, Herbarium Amboinensis, is finally published.  Linnaeus' name of Nepenthes obviously sticks. Actually, Linnaeus had his work published first, which is why the name Nepenthes would be proper. Linnaeus came up with the name when he was studying N. distillatoria, which is one of the plainest looking Nepenthes there is. He was awestruck with even this simple member of the genus, and came up with the name Nepenthes from Homer's The Odyssey. In The Odyssey, the drug Nepenthe was mixed with wine in a flask, and Linnaeus commented "if this is not Helen's Nepenthes, it certainly will for all botanists. What botanist would not be filled with admiration if, after a long journey, he should find this wonderful plant."
(If Linnaeus was this moved by N. distillatoria, how much more so if he had seen any specimen from the island of Borneo, such as N. rajah.   Maybe it was for the best, for if he had seen these large beauties and suspected their carnivorous nature, he may not have been as motivated to create the modern scientific nomenclature system we all now use, but instead focus intently on the study of these plants. I certainly would have opted for the latter. )

N. distillatoria becomes the first Nepenthes introduced into cultivation. It's introduced at the Royal Gardens At Kew by Sir Joseph Banks.
(It's about freaking time. It's only been like 130 years since pitcher plants were first described!)

Father Joao Loureiro, a Portugese priest, describes Phyllamphora mirabilis, which came from Vietnam. This is the plant we know as N. mirabilis.

Poiret describes N. madagascierensis and N. distillatoria for the Encyclopedie Methodique Botanique.

It's hard to imagine that 130 years passed from the time that Etienne de Flacourt described what we now know as N. madagascierensis until the first species are cultivated by seed. Indeed, it will be nearly 200 years after the first discovery before the first live specimens of Nepenthes from Borneo arrives in Europe.   I guess that's understandable when you think about the two or three species known at this sime. None were really spectacular enough to demand much interest from growers. Indeed, most of the glasshouses have yet to be built, as England has a stiff tax levied upon glass. ANother problem is getting live specimans to survive a long journey, as transporting tropical plants over great distances usually meant their demise. This would be remedied by Nathaniel Ward with the invention of the wardian case in 1833. The wardian case was a container which allowed plants to be transported over long distances. Whereas 95% of specimens arrived dead without the case, 90%-95% survived the long trips with them. Also, the fact that so few  Nepenthes were known at this time shouldn't come across as a total surprise. The island of Borneo had yet to be touched, not a surprise if you realize that the large land mass to the south known as Australia had not yet been discovered. The entire region was poorly known. But times were changing, Europian nurseries were sending out expeditions to find new and rare plants in the Borneo area, and the world was in for some very exciting discoveries.

Early 1800's
A large number of Nepenthes seed was sent to a couple of nurseries. The seedlings were widely distributed. The seed was supposedly collected from Ceylon, so it was thought to be N. distillatoria. But it was discovered that the seed actually came from the Khasi hills in Bengal. Nepenthes history will be riddled with mistakes in where material  was collected. We still face complications with some of these mistakes today.
(Can someone please accurately report where the hell something is collected???  Hello?? Take a memo pad and pen with you into the jungle please!!!)

Dr. William Jack discovers N. rafflesiana and N. ampullaria.   N. rafflesiana is stunning, and becomes the largest and most beautiful Nepenthes found to date. Not that there was a lot to compare it to so far.
(I can confidently report that collectors never broke down the doors to the CP Jungle for a specimen of N. Distillatoria.)

The first illustration of a cultivated pitcher plant is published in the Loddiges Botanical Caberet. The plant is described as N. distillatoria, but is in fact what we now know as N. khasiana.
(You see?? This was caused by someone not accurately reporting where seed was collected. Let's see how long it is before someone realizes this plant isn't N. distilliatoria.)

Nathaniel Ward Invents the wardian case. This was a chamber that kept specimans alive during long trips. It was found to be an essential piece of equipment in the introduction of the Bornean species.

Augustinian friar Blanco discovers N. alata and N. ventricosa in the Philippines.
(Ok, we have a governor describing the first pitcher plant, a priest describing N. mirabilis, now we have a friar describing these two plants. Where the hell are the botanists???  Why aren't their butts in the field making plant discoveries?? Obviously the botanists are busy with other items, like trying to learn Linnaeus' new nomenclature system.)

P. W. Korthals publishes the first monograph on Nepenthes. He lists 9 species: N. boschiana, N. gracilis, N. bongso, N. gymnamphora, N. ampullaria, N. mirabilis, N. rafflesiana, N. madagasciernesis, and N. distillatoria. Obviously Blanco's additions two years prior did not make it into this work.
(Finally we have some input from the botanist community! After descriptions of pitcher plants from a priest and a friar, I was beginning to think that the first monograph on Nepenthes was going to be written by Sister Mary Margaret from the order of the sequestered nuns!  All kidding aside, botanists in this era really did not focus on pitcher plants like you would have thought they would have Dr. William Jack, who discovered rafflesiana and ampullaria was, by the way, a surgeon.)

Nepenthes rafflesiana arrives in Europe at the Loddiges nursery, followed by much fanfare and parades. Ok, there probably were no parades, but it was followed by N. ampullaria. N. x Hookeriana is actually the first of the Bornean species to reach cultivation. These species soon excite the European community into a Nepenthes frenzy.

N. rafflesiana & ampullaria are displayed at the Royal Horticultural Society's annual show.
(After the show it is discovered that most of the plants have had illegal cuttings taken by people who refuse to actually pay money for the plants. Just kidding, unscrupolous people taking illegal cuttings from plant shows does not reach its apex until the 1990's.)

England abolishes the glass tax. This leads to an explosion of large glasshouses throughout the area. Many of the affluent had one, and demanded that they be filled with orchids, bananas, oranges, pineapple, and Nepenthes.

Hugh Low & Company nurseries is able to flower a plant of N. xhookeriana in cultivation.

Hugh Low makes an expedition to Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. He makes 2 more in 1858. During these expeditions he discovers four spectacular new species; N. lowii, N. rajah, N. edwardsiana, and N. villosa. So excited over this expedition, he leaves an empty wine bottle on the summit which is apparently still there.
(Which brings up a mandatory question. Of all the supplies needed to climb the then treacherous Mt. Kinabalu, I'm wondering who placed wine on the list. I'd like to know, so that I can invite them along on my first trip. Maybe that's why they drank water from Nepenthes pitchers during these expeditions. They may have been too inebriated to think better of it. One of the locals probably told him the fluid made a good mouthwash or something.....)

A picture of Nepenthes veitchii from the Veitch nurseries is published. It is incorrectly labeled as N. villosa.
(And thus starts the trend of haphazardly mislabeling plants that  exists even today.)

Sir Joseph Hooker wastes no time in describing and illustrating the 4 spectacular plants just discovered on Mt Kinabalu.
(Reports that he has sobered up Hugh Low can not be verified. )

N. x dominii, the first manmade Nepenthes hybrid, is created at the Veitch nurseries. This will start a trend of victorian hybrids from this nursery that are still in existence today.

Marianne North returns to England from her travels around the world. Her travels had taken her to Kuching in Sarawak where she had stayed with the second Rajah Brooke. While in the area she painted a picture of a magnificent pitcher plant. Sir Harry Veitch, upon seeing the painting, recognizes the plant as a new species. The plant was named Nepenthes northiana in her honor.

Messrs Veitch has 10 species and 5 hybrids of Nepenthes in cultivation.

Sir Joseph Hooker realizes that the widely distributed seedlings sent throughout Europe in the early 1800's is not that of N. distillatoria. He believes it is a yet to be described new species, and calls the plant N. khasiana.  He also publishes the second monograph on Nepenthes, listing 33 species.
(And now we have our answer. Nearly 3/4's of a century pass until Sir Joseph realizes the error made by the inaccurate reporting of where the seed had been collected. This isn't the last you'll hear of mis-identifying where seed was collected, and the ramifications thereof.)

Burbidge makes his first trip to Borneo.

Burbidge heads off to Borneo a second time and collects N. rajah for the Veitch nurseries. (
This was a century before CITES was formed. Anyone today who goes to Borneo to collect N. rajah and gets caught will receive an extended stay by the local authorities. Stating that you're a friend of Burbidge will NOT get you off the hook.) He discovers the beautiful N. burbidgeae, which he named for his wife. (Now here's a smart man.  I can imagine him in the doghouse with his wife for taking one too many trips to Borneo. To get off the hook,   he suddenly says "I name this plant Burbidgeae in honor of my wife!"   I guess it doesn't matter that they both have the same last name of  Burbidge. Well, she must have bought it. I myself am still a bit skeptical.)  In any case, having this plant named in ones honor is truly a privilege, as it is a beauty. He described the white pitchers as egg shell porcelain blotched with crimson red unlike any other variety. It is truly a beautiful plant, and is called the painted pitcher plant.

The Garden reports that Nepenthes are being propagated by the thousands to keep up with the European demand. N. madagascierensis is finally introduced.

N. distillatoria is now known in cultivation as N. zeylanica.
 (How could this have happened, considering Linnaeus called the plant N. distillatoria 150 years earlier? Geez, didn't anyone in this era read???.)  N. khasiana is the most widely cultivated plant, due to the highly distributed seed in the early 1800's. (Plus the fact, no doubt, that it is an easy plant to grow.) The Gardeners Chronicle begins publishing descriptions and cultivating requirements of new species, hybrids, and varities of Nepenthes.

A picture of Nepenthes xhookeriana is published.  N. rajah is formally introduced from Burbidges second Borneo trip, and N. bicalcarata is introduced for the first time.

Charles Curtis, on an expedition to Borneo, sends back seed of N. northiana. He also sends back N. stenophylla and seed from a plant that will become known as N. curtisii.   Young Nepenthes rajah plants are displayed at the Royal Horticultural Society's annual show for the first time. (It is now disputed that Curtis collected N. curtisii, now known as N. maxima, in Borneo. Charles Clarke points out that he also visited Sulawesi on the same trip, and N. maxima is common there. Could it be that Curtis actually found N. fusca on Borneo, and collected seed from what he though was the same plant in Sulawesi? It's definitely possible. If this happened, N. fusca would be known today as N. curtisii. It pays to accurately report where something was seen and collected. Charles Curtis soon after had his beautiful namesake plant, N. curtisii, reduced to a synonym of N. maxima.)   The Gardeners Chronicles display a picture of James Taplin's N. xAtrosanguinea. Taplin works for George Such nurseries in America.

Burbidge describes the hybrid N x Mastersiana. A hybrid created by the Veitch nursery, it was a cross between a female N. sanguinea and a male N. khasiana. It was named for Maxwell Masters, who became editor of the Gardners Chronicles in 1865. This was indeed an honor for him, for N. xMastersiana was the finest hybrid created to date.

The Gardeners Chronicles list 131 species, varieties, and hybrids of Nepenthes were in cultivation. At least some of the species of this account would be reduced. (N. curtisii reduced to N. maxima, for example) Some of the speciesVeitch's latest catalog lists for sale N. curtisii, N. northiana, and N. rajah. They also list the firms popular hybrid, N. mastersiana. Soon afterwards, however, N. northiana is lost from cultivation.

Tivey creates the hybrid N. x Mixta, a cross between N. northiana and N.maxima. Since N. northiana was soon lost in cultivation after it was introduced in 1889, it apparantly had survived until now and flowered.

N. pervillei is introduced by the Veitch nurseries.

Beck revises the Nepenthes genus. 

America's contribution to the Nepenthes hybridization effort, mainly that of James Taplin, are published in the Encyclopedia of American Horticulture.  James Taplin had started his work in England, and then came to America to work for George Such Nurseries located in New Jersey, USA. Apparantly Taplin had died by the time of this publication. His incredible hybrids created during the late 1800's were recognized as a tremendous success in both America and Europe.

Tivey does it again, releasing N. x Dyeriana. He crosses his N. mixta with (N. rafflesiana x N. veitchii).

The final Nepenthes rajah plants are gone from the Veitch nurseries, as the cultural requirements of the plant proved to difficult to reproduce. The only surviving N. rajah in cultivation is located at the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin in Ireland, and it soon disappears.

Hortus Veitchii is published, which recounts the work of Nepenthes hybridization. Most of the work to this date of Nepenthes hybrids had been carried out by the Veitch nursery and their very capable staff.

Macfarlane revises the Nepenthes Genus, listing 58 species.

Lilian Gibbs, the first woman to climb Mt. Kinabalu, discovers N. rajah x N. villosa. It is given the formal name N. kinabaluensis by Shigeo Kurata in 1976.
(Reports that she began dancing wildly singing "I am woman, hear me roar" can not be confirmed.)

Even with the demise of N. rajah and N. northiana, the Nepenthes craze would not die out completely in Europe. That is until Europe was thrust into the middle of World War I. With a shortage of fuel and money, the many great glasshouses that were once so warm and vibrant suddenly went cold through the harsh winters. So the Nepenthes practically disappeared from Europe. Japan, however, begins to feel the love, and starts hybridizing Nepenthes in earnest.

Bailey's Standard Cyclopedia of Horitculture recounts some of the beautiful hybrids created to date.

Under the direction of George Pring, the Missouri Botanical Gardens begins to build its Nepenthes collection. It eventually houses one of the largest Nepenthes collection in the world.

Danser writes his infamous Nepenthes monograph "Nepenthes of the Netherland Indies." He reduced the number of species to 48.

Harms revised the Nepenthes genus. He separated N. villosa and N. edwardsiana which Danser had combined.

The Japanese hybridization efforts come to a screaching halt as the country feels the effects of World War II.
(Ok everyone, do we see a pattern here??)

Hybridization efforts in Japan resume.

Dr. Kostermans collects a speciman of a new pitcher plant, N. campanulata. Natives of the area have known of the plant for some time, calling the mountain on which it grew "flowering rock." On the same expedition he collects plant specimans of N. mapuluensis.

Shigeo Kurata describes N. campanulata from the speciman collected by Dr. Kostermans in 1957. Dr. Kawase of the Kosobe Botanical Gardens at Kyoto University begins creating many Nepenthes hybrids. The naming convention he used ended the hybrid name with KOTO, which means old capital. Many of these hybrids are famous and widespread, including N. x Dreamy Koto and N. x Delectable KOTO. He created over 163 hybrids in ten years.
(163 in 10 years!!!  GEEEEZZZ!!!  Reports that the last hybrid created by Dr. Kawase was named N. x I cant think of another damned name KOTO are totally untrue.)

Shigeo Kurata publishes his book Nepenthes of Mt. Kinabalu. The book contained the best color photography of Nepenthes to date.
(I totally blame him for my current Nepenthes hysteria condition. Many others share my sentiment.)

Somewhere in this timeframe a nursery named WIP (World Insectivirous Plants) comes onto the mail order scene. In its catalog is one of the largest Nepenthes selections I personally had seen to date, as well as the largest selection of any other genus of CP as well.
(Because WIP made so many species of Nepenthes available for sale, many collectors, including myself, were struck with the Nepenthes fever, a disease in which there is no cure. The only known symptoms is the urge to collect every known species of the genus. Fortunately, Nepenthes fever doesn't otherwise affect the person with the disease itself, but does seem to affect ones spouse in a highly negative way.)

Sometime in the early 1980's, WIP converted to a wholesale operation.
(Causing myself and many others to to suffer Nepenthes withdrawal symptoms. The spouses of the afflicted were jubilant.)   Fortunately, two other mail order nurseries, Orgels Orchids and Lee's Botanical Gardens, began listing Nepenthes species and a large number of hybrids. Clyde Bramblett (Orgels Orchids) and Bruce Lee Bednar (Lee's Botanical Gardens) combined their Nepenthes hybridization effort. 

Marabini and Briggs discover N. x Trusmadiensis, one of the largest Nepenthes known. It is a very rare natural hybrid located on Mt. Trus Madi. It's parents are N. macrophylla and the larger form of N. lowii which grows on Mt Trus Madi.

Pitcher Plants of Borneo by Phillipps and Lamb is published. It contains color photos of Nepenthes in the wild, as well as beautiful watercolor paintings from Susan Phillipps.  

Jebb and Cheek revises the Nepenthes genus, listing 82 species. They list 31 species from Borneo, as they recognize N. borneensis as distinct, but reduce N. faizaliana as a synonym of N. stenophylla.  Charles Clarkes Nepenthes Of Borneo is published. Clarke revises Jebb and Cheeks Bornean Nepenthes species, as he reduced N. borneensis as a synonym of N. boschiana, and elevated N. faizaliana to species rank.


While researching the history of Nepenthes, several thoughts have crossed my mind. The Netherlands created massive glasshouse ranges as did Europe. It is unfortunate that the Netherlands did not see the Nepenthes frenzy that Europe did. Their giant glasshouses were built to handle cool plants, and the giant beauties from Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo may have done very well there. The European greenhouses, which were mostly hothouses, could have grown giant lowland Nepenthes such as N. truncata or N. merrilliana. But the Europeans were so struck with N. rajah that when it died, so to did most of the Nepenthes fervor.