An international conservation group yesterday announced the discovery of a new species of carnivorous pitcher plant native to Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.
The species, named Nepenthes holdenii after British photographer Jeremy Holden, who first stumbled across the plant in 2006, produces pitchers that can reach 30 centimetres in length and can thrive in drought- and fire-prone areas.
“I found it and photographed it, but it took me a couple of years to find someone who could identify it,” Holden said yesterday.
Eventually Holden got in touch with François Mey, a French botanist and pitcher plant expert, who flew to Cambodia in August of this year to see the plant for himself. “Within 10 seconds [Mey] could tell that it is a new species,” said Holden.
According to a statement announcing the discovery of the plant, which was issued by the conservation organisation Fauna & Flora International, “the large red and green pitchers that characterise Nepenthes holdenii are actually modified leaves designed to capture and digest insects”.
“The carnivorous strategy allows the plants to gain additional nutrients and flourish in otherwise impoverished soils,” the statement added.
Another unusual adaptation is the plants’ “ability to cope with fire and extended periods of drought” because of “a large underground tuber which sends up a new pitcher-bearing vine after the fires have passed”, the statement added.
“This amazing species may be the most drought-tolerant of the genus,” the statement quoted Mey as saying.
Holden said he was aware the Cardamom Mountains were a “treasure chest” of new species, but added that it was still a surprise to find something as “exciting and charismatic” as an unknown pitcher plant.
Nepenthes holdenii is actually the second new species of pitcher plant to be discovered in Cambodia recently.
In 2009, a 7-metre-tall carnivorous pitcher plant that derived nourishment from trapping ants and other insects in its pitchers was officially documented by researchers on Bokor Mountain in Kampot province. Ministry of Environment officials said yesterday they were unable to provide any information about the discovery.