A "New" Pitcher Plant for Sabah
A Pitcher Plant that Went Unnoticed...

by Herman (2007)

World authority on the ecology of pitcher plants Dr Charles Clarke has discovered a new species in Sabah, which has been named Nepenthes chaniana (Nepenthaceae) after Sabahan Datuk CL Chan, who has become the first Malaysian to gets a nepenthes species named after him.

The species was found on Gunung Alab - the highest peak in the Crocker Range National Park, which also means a protected habitat. The discovery was subsequently published in the Sabah Parks Nature Journal.

This new discovery gives Sabah another added credential as one the 12 mega-biodiversity hot spots in the world!

After taxonomic efforts with Ch'ien Lee and Stewart McPherson confirmed it was new, the James Cook University research scientist decided to name it after Chan, as a tribute to Chan's enormous publishing efforts on the biodiversity of Borneo and elsewhere.

"I feel it's a great honour," beamed Datuk Chan, Managing Director of Natural History Publications (Borneo). The twist to the big breaking news is that this particular pitcher plant had actually been sighted in Sabah for ages, but for a long, long time, N. chaniana was mistaken as Nepenthes pilosa, Dans. The latter was found in the remote mountains of Kalimantan in 1899 by Indonesian botanist, Amdjah who was part of the Nieuwenhuis Expedition and was subsequently described by Dutch botanist, B.H. Danser, in 1928.

Amdjah collected only two specimens of N. pilosa, Dans on January 28, 1899 at 1,600m from Bukit Batu Lesung which is located geographically close to the center of Kalimantan but the population of N. pilosa, from which Amdjah's material was collected has never been seen since. As such, Dr Clarke had long doubted whether the so called 'N. pilosa' in Sabah was the same as the N. pilosa of Kalimantan.

Clarke made a personal expedition to Bukit Batu Lesung in July 2006 to check it out and found to his astonishment that the real N. pilosa of Kalimantan was much rounder and broader in shape. Hence, Sabah's so called 'N. pilosa' was decisively a different species.

Clarke, who has written a record of five books on nepenthes, rectified the mistake and that means N. chaniana is the newest species of nepenthes in the world!


Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes)

The Nepenthes, popularly known as Tropical Pitcher Plants or Monkey Cups, are a genus of carnivorous plants in the monotypic family Nepenthaceae that comprises roughly 117 species, numerous natural and many cultivated hybrids. They are vine-forming plants of the Old World tropics, ranging from South China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; westward to Madagascar and the Seychelles; southward to Australia and New Caledonia ; and northward to India and Sri Lanka. The greatest diversity occurs on Borneo and Sumatra with many endemic species. Sabah has some 20 species with many naturally occurring hybrids, such as the beautiful N x trusmadiensis.

Many nepenthes are plants of hot humid lowland areas, but the majority are tropical montane plants, receiving warm days but cool to cold humid nights year round. A few are considered tropical alpine with cool days and nights near freezing. The largest nepenthes, N rajah, grows in Sabah at altitudes above 2000 m a.s.l., its cup can hold up to four liters!

Nepenthes rajah, from Trus Madi, Sabah

Nepenthes generally grow on ultrabasic soil poor in nutrients. While the plant can absorb nutrients through its roots the poor soil makes surviving nevertheless difficult, hence the cups filled with a digestive liquid. This allows the plant to nourish itself by carnivorous means. While nepenthes usually digest small insects such as flies, ants and spiders rumor has it that within N rajah one has already found rats, snakes and scorpions...

The pitcher or cup of the nepenthes is not its flower, and it is not a Venus-type trap. Once the pitcher, which develops from a tendril extending from the plant's leathery leaves, is open the lid presumably serves to prevent rainwater from diluting the digestive syrup, not to keep in prey. Insects and others attracted by the liquid in the cup drown as they are prevented from crawling out of the pitcher by its wax coated inner walls. Should they nevertheless be able to crawl up the walls they will be met with fine hairs under the peristome, or "lip" of the cup, making escape impossible. The smart ones bite through the pitcher...

  closed pitcher, N hookeriana   open pitcher, N hookeriana

Certain insect larvae, however, manage to survive in the aggressive liquid and even nourish themselves from decomposing victims. A tiny frog has been found in the Maliau Basin, making the pitcher plants its home, too.

A spider residing in the plant, waiting for victims...

Usually nepenthes produce two different kind of pitchers, 'base pitchers' on the ground and upper pitchers. The two might be so different from each other that one can get confused and wonder if it is actually one and the same plant! 

Pitcher plants have separate flower stands (usually racemes, rarer panicles), and male and female flowers grow on separate plants:  

Nepenthes flowers



N. chaniana, Gng Alab
photo Daily Express

N edwardsiana, Kinabalu Park HQ

N burbidgeae, Mt Trus Madi

N rafflesiana (?), Sarawak

N ampullaria, Bako National Park, Sarawak


NeAll features are original scholarship works and copyrighted. Please contact us for the use of the material. 


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