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New Carnivorous Plant Species Found

August 11, 2009

A new plant species has been discovered in the central Philippines – a giant carnivorous plant.

The plant is the largest of all pitchers and is so big that it can catch rats as well as insects in its trap.

Botanists came across the strange pink ferns – as well as blue mushrooms – during an expedition.

The botanists named the pitcher plant after British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough.

The details of the discovery were published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society earlier this year.

Word of the new species came from two Christian missionaries that scaled Mount Victoria in 2000, which is a rarely visited peak in central Palawan in the Philippines.

The missionaries attempted the climb, but became lost for 13 days before being rescued.

On their return they described seeing a large carnivorous pitcher plant.

Stewart McPherson of Red Fern Natural History Productions found the description interesting, along with independent botanist Alastair Robinson and Andreas Fleischmann of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

All three of the botanists are pitcher plant experts who have traveled to remote locations in search for a new species.

In 2007 the three took off on a two-month expedition to the Philippines in search of this exotic new plant.

Three guides accompanied them while they hiked through lowland forest, finding large strands of a pitcher plant known to science as Nepenthes philippinensis, as well as strange pink ferns and blue mushrooms that they could not identify.

As they closed in on the forest the team came upon scrub and large boulders.

“At around 1,600 meters above sea level, we suddenly saw one great pitcher plant, then a second, then many more,” McPherson recounts.

“It was immediately apparent that the plant we had found was not a known species.”

Carnivorous plants are known to have independently evolved at least six separate times.  Some have sticky surfaces that act like flypaper, and others have traps like the Venus flytrap that closes leaves around their prey.

The team has placed specimens of the new species in the herbarium of the Palawan State University, and they named the plant Nepenthes attenboroughii.

“The plant is among the largest of all carnivorous plant species and produces spectacular traps as large as other species which catch not only insects, but also rodents as large as rats,” says McPherson.

McPherson hopes the remote, inaccessible mountain top location will prevent poachers from reaching it, because the plant does not grow in large numbers.

The team also encountered another pitcher during expedition, Nepenthes deaniana, which had not been seen in the wild for over 100 years.  The only known existing specimens of the species were lost in a herbarium fire in 1945.

The team came across a striking new species of sundew on the way down, which is a stick trap plant.

This sundew, which produces striking large, semi-erect leaves that form a blood red foliage, is thought to be a member of the genus Drosera.

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