New Plant Species: Underground Pitcher Plant and Giant Water Lily

New Plant Species: Underground Pitcher Plant and Giant Water Lily

We all know about pitcher plants, what they’re like and what their capabilities are. But for those of you who are not familiar with the species, they’re carnivorous plants with uniquely shaped leaves called pitchers that help them trap prey.

Now that we’ve talked about it, time for the good news: here’s a newly found species of pitcher plant, and another new plant species that we’re going to talk about in a minute.

When scientists were observing and trailing around the island of Borneo, they noticed something peculiar and different from what they’ve seen before. They saw foliage that looked like that of a pitcher plant, but they couldn’t actually see any pitchers.

The curious discovery gets more mysterious when the scientists found a deformed pitcher protruding from the soil. Initially, they had assumed that the pitcher had accidentally been buried and they kept going forward. Of course, they kept thinking that the pitcherless plants were intriguing and mind-boggling at the same time.

But their state of awe didn’t stay for too long. Somehow, one of the researchers was taking photos and tore some moss off the base of a tree. It was then that they unexpectedly found a handful of maroon pitchers. 

This sort of serendipity has led to the identification of a new species of pitcher plant. What’s unique about this new pitcher plant is that it traps and eats bugs below the surface. 



Nepenthes pudica the shy

Researchers believe Nepenthes pudica is the first recorded pitcher plant that feeds underground. Botanist at Palacký University in the Czech Republic Meghan Rosen said, “We were, of course, astonished as nobody would expect that a pitcher plant with underground traps could exist.”

The name Pudica, which is Latin for bashful, is a nod to how the plant doesn’t want to “come out of its shells” and prefers to stay hidden unlike other pitcher plants. 

According to the researchers, this subspecies develops subterranean pitchers that can grow up to 4.3 inches long. To feed, it waits for tasty ants, mites, beetles and other underground critters to fall or wander into the pitchers. When they examined the pitchers, the scientists found an array of insects such as mosquito larvae, nematodes, and worms.

While there are other carnivorous plants that catch their prey underground, their traps are not as big as N. pudica’s. That means the other non-pitcher plants can only capture minuscule or very small prey. However, the new pitcher plant can capture the same size of prey as other, above-ground pitcher plants.

What’s unique about this underground pitcher plant is that it must push soil and other debris out of the way as they grow, the pitchers are thicker and sturdier than those found on other pitcher plants.

According to the researchers, this new species is also special because it only grows in the Mentarang Hulu district of North Kalimantan at elevations of 3,600 to 4,265 feet above sea level. 

With this discovery, scientists and conservationists hope that it will help protect Bornean rainforests and delay the destruction of the area’s rainforests for palm oil plantations.

The researchers write, “Its discovery underlines the natural richness of Borneo’s rainforest and the necessity to preserve this important ecosystem with its enormous and still undiscovered biodiversity.”


New giant water lily species

I’m often fascinated by giant water lilies because of how strong they can be, and I was intrigued when I found out that there’s a newfound species of giant water lily that was hiding in plain sight. 

The new giant water lily is called Victoria boliviana. It was discovered after people had mistaken the aquatic plant species for another one at London’s Kew Gardens for 177 years and in the National Herbarium of Bolivia for 34 years.

Initially, plant experts at Kew thought the species was Victoria amazonica, one of the two known varieties of the colossal waterlilies named after Queen Victoria in 1852. The researchers found out that it’s an entirely new species after working together with another team in Bolivia. 

Boliviana is now the world’s largest known water lily species, with leaves that can grow almost ten feet (3 meters) wide in the wild and support at least 176 pounds (79 kilograms). 

One can find this giant lily in Bolivian freshwater  rivers, ponds and floodplains, specifically in the northeastern part. The plant produces various flowers throughout the year with blooming colors that turn from white to pink, and are covered in sharp prickles. 

Why the enormous size, you may ask? It’s still not entirely known, but scientists suspect their large size may help them compete with other plants for sunlight.



Deceiving looks that had hidden the plant for so long

The story was, the new giant water lily came at the Kew Gardens after horticulturalists at the Santa Cruz de La Sierra Botanic Garden and La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia donated them in 2016.

After the seeds grew and bloomed in the Kew Gardens, one of the study researchers Carlos Magdalena saw that the plants appeared different from the two known species of giant water lily. 

Magdalena could point out the differences between the three species because the Kew Gardens is the only place where they are grown side by side. The difference lie on a different distribution of prickles and different seeds than the other plants of the Victoria genus.

Since the curious water lily has distinct qualities, Magdalena traveled to Bolivia to see the specimen growing in the wild.

Well, it turned out that Magdalena’s hunch was right. V. boliviana was genetically different from the other known giant lily species and is most closely related to V. cruziana.

Further analysis found that a common ancestor between V. cruziana and V. boliviana split from V. amazonica five million years ago. It is believed that the common ancestor between V. boliviana and V. cruziana may have diverged a million years ago.

There’s a bit of bad news, though. Even though this species has only been discovered recently, scientists found that V. boliviana has a greater risk of going extinct than the other two species in the genus because of its small geographical range. Actually, all three species are under increased threat because of continuing deforestation in the Amazon. 

One can only hope and do our part to help in ways we can so that it won’t happen. If you want to have a look at this enormous water lily, you can go to the Kew Gardens to view all three species of Victoria side by side in the garden’s Princess of Wales Conservatory.



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