‘Spectacular’ rat-eating plant found in Palawan

By Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Aug 18 2009 12:47 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2009 09:39 PM

Several new plant species also spotted

MANILA – The Philippines is home to another plant that is not found in any other place in the world after botanists discovered a new species that is capable of eating rats and insects in central Palawan.

The huge carnivorous pitcher plant called Nepenthes attenboroughii, said to be the largest meat-eating plant, was discovered at Mount Victoria in the municipality of Narra.

The group of botanists led by Britons Alastair Robinson and Stewart McPherson saw the plant in 2007.

They heard of the new plant species from two Christian missionaries who claimed to have seen the huge pitcher plant in 2000, reported Chris Irvine of the Telegraph.

“The plant produces spectacular traps which catch not only insects, but also rodents,” McPherson told Irvine.

“It is remarkable that it remained undiscovered until the 21st century,” he added.

Only in RP

McPherson and Robinson published a paper on the new pitcher plant species along with Andreas Fleischmann, Volker Heinrich, Elizabeth Gironella and Clemencio Peña.

“A spectacular new species of Nepenthes L.(Nepenthaceae) pitcher plant from central Palawan, Philippines” was published in the Botanical Journal of Linnean Society in February 2009.

According to the journal article, the Philippines is home to 17 Nepenthes species, 16 of which are endemic. This means that they can only be found in the Philippines.

The Philippines is the “third richest region for Nepenthes diversity after Sumatra and Borneo, each with approximately 30 endemic species.”

The botanists described the new Nepenthes species as “immediately distinguishable from other Nepenthes by its great dimensions and trumpet-shaped lower and upper pitchers.”

They also noted that it is the “only member of the genus occurring at high elevation on the mountain.”

Attenborough tribute

The botanists explained in the article why they named the new plant species Nepenthes attenboroughii.

“The specific epithet, attenboroughii, is a commemorative, genitive noun in apposition taken from the patronym Attenborough,” they said.

They noted that they chose to name the plant after broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough because he is a “keen enthusiast of the genus and a patron of Philippine conservation efforts.”

They also mentioned that Attenborough has “outstanding television documentaries have made the world’s natural history accessible and understandable to millions.”

Attenborough, for his part, said he was “absolutely flattered.”

He told the Telegraph: “This is a remarkable species the largest of its kind. I'm told it can catch rats then eat them with its digestive enzymes. It's certainly capable of that."

Matt Walker of BBC's Earth News reported that the botanists have placed specimens of Nepenthes attenboroughii in the herbarium of Palawan State University.

More discoveries

Meanwhile, it was revealed that other species were found during the botanists’ expedition in Mount Victoria.

According to Earth News, the botanists “came across a striking new species of sundew, a type of sticky trap plant, which they are in the process of formally describing.”

They also spotted “strange pink ferns and blue mushrooms they could not identify.”

They even saw another pitcher plant, Nepenthes deaniana, which is said to have not been visible in the wild for a hundred years.

Three of the botanists are regarded as pitcher plant experts: McPherson, Robinson and Heinrich.

McPherson is from Redfern Natural History Productions in Poole, Dorset, Great Britain. Robinson is formerly from the University of Cambridge while Heinrich is from Bukidnon, Philippines.

Fleischmann, meanwhile, is from Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (LMU Munich) while Gironella and Peña are from the Palawan State University Biodiversity Center for Research and Conservation.

Photos courtesy of Stewart McPherson, “A spectacular new species of Nepenthes L. (Nepenthaceae) pitcher plant from central Palawan, Philippines” from Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 159, 195–202.