Several years ago, Offspring #1 experienced a “Save the Rain Forest” unit in school which lasted several weeks and culminated in an epic- and by that I mean long and painful- Broadway show highlighting the students` learnings. He was as thrilled to be cast as the Bornean Pitcher Plant as I was incapacitated at the prospect of making the costume. Who knew that I would come face to face with this carnivorous, man-eating plant the likes of which horror movies, cartoons, and eco- friendly vacation nightmares are inspired.
At first glance, this bulbous plant with the rain catching jug appears to be an unusual, and exquisite, example of rain forest flora. However, the alluring bloom belies the evil and distasteful intentions within. This rain forest temptress will eat any living creature, man or beast, succumbing to its charms. The nectar lined jug acting as a reservoir for rain water, the upper lip lined with mesmerizing hues of red- to insects anyway- comprising nature`s perfect trap. A perfectly designed death bowl for insects and small mammals.
The fragrant nectar`s smell wafted through sweltering, stagnant air filling one`s thoughts with a tall, ice tea sweetened with its juices. Was Offspring #2 capable of resisting the temptation to caress the pitcher or plant her nose firmly inside to satisfy her teenaged thrill seeking impulses regardless of the consequences? The plant would then have her firmly in its treacherous grasp. I thought it pertinent to protect her from this plant with an insatiable desire for living flesh and strongly forbade her from coming within a 5 foot diameter of the diabolical beauty- no matter how small.
The rain forest of Borneo is home to 30 out of 80 of the ferocious species classified as Pitcher Plant. Genus Nepenthes. All heartless killers. Once inside the jug, unfortunate occupants find themselves stuck and consequently digested by the enzymatic juices contained within.
Our tour guide warned of the fate held for those who ventured too close. If we`d known this was the last time to enjoy our Australian friend`s company, we certainly would have sent him off with a proper good-bye or at least we`d have been nicer.
Some animals in the rain forest have negotiated peace by capitalizing on a weakness the plant shows for its favorite dinner time treat. Excrement. Some just love a dish of warm, fragrant poop. To the delight of the pitcher plant, tree shrews lick the nectar from the wall of the plant then defecate inside thus providing a well needed fertilizer boost of nitrogen.
Tiny bats roost in the jug during the day, a tiny lip preventing them from falling in to the digestive juices below, and poop while sleeping. Most certainly a win-win for plant and bat.
This leads one to conclude that devouring insects is preferable to the alternate life choices some species of Pitcher Plant have chosen.
Football sized specimens make excellent fountains for larger mammals in need of a fresh rain water fix such as monkeys.
How could we have known that deep inside the rain forest dwelled an even more formidable flower so large it truly did gorge on rodents and belch fumes so noxious it earned the nickname “the corpse flower”.
But that`s all we have time for today. And I hope it won`t be another 3 weeks before I close this chapter on the dangers lurking within the rain forest of Borneo…..