Nepenthes albomarginata

Nepenthes albomarginata looks like it’s going on a date, all dressed up with a classy white collar. The characteristic band of white under the peristome serves a unique purpose, though – and it’s not for attracting the ladies or gents. It also happens to be where the plant derives its epithet; albo is Latin for white, and marginata means margin. More on the form and function of this unique collar, below.

Nepenthes albomarginata can be found on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, and Nias Island. There are a few forms of the plant, ranging from those with pale green pitchers to others with bright red pitchers. In fact the variety of pitcher color has resulted in 5+ taxa being described to keep track of all the different forms.

This tropical pitcher plant has been referred to under many prior names – N. albocincta, N. laevis, N. teymanniana, N. tomentella, and N. tupmanniana – all of which should be ignored, unlike the plant itself, which should be very much appreciated.

Unique biology of Nepenthes albomarginata

Trap characteristics

Nepenthes albomarginata has simple, cylindrical pitchers about 6 inches (15 cm) tall, with an oval mouth and lid to match. It has an understated elegance that could almost come off as a bit… bland. However, it avoids being labeled “boring” by packing a bit of unique bling in the form of an elegant white band below its mouth – something that almost looks too perfect to be produced naturally. This band isn’t just a simple piece of flare, though.

The unique white band on Nepenthes albomarginata attracts a specific group of Nasotermites (termites) that omnomnom the band and then get omnomnomed themselves. The band is composed of small white trichomes, or hair-like structures, that attract these termites like flies to honey, or Audrey II’s to flesh, or Drosera capensis seed to all of your other carnivorous plant pots. Ecologists Jonathan Moran, Marlis Merbach, and their coworkers observed the unique appeal to termites noting that,

for several days, nothing would happen, then – after a single night – pitcher would fill with termites and their rim hairs would disappear.
By placing Nepenthes albomarginata pitchers both with and without the white band present near termites, they were able to observe that the termites flocked to those pitchers with white bands, and while doing so would fall into the pitchers or get pushed in by subsequent waves of termites vying for sweet, sweet trichome candy. The rate of capture was up to an astounding 22 termites per minute, capping out at 6,000 termites per pitcher. Talk about over-eating… more like Nepenthes obeseomarginata, am I right?

Other notable characteristics

Pitchers with devoured trichomes are ignored by termites, as they move on to find their next fix of the good white stuff. This behavior makes Nepenthes albomarginata the only known species of carnivorous plant that sacrifices tissue as bait to lure prey. Termites happen to be a particularly valuable prey as they are present in very large quantities, often being the most abundant terrestrial invertebrates in tropical ecosystems, and provide a richer source of nitrogen when compared to other local prey. As noted by Moran,
Compared to ants, a smaller proportion of the nitrogen in termites is bound up in indigestible chitin, leaving a correspondingly larger fraction available for assimilation.

All of that simply means that N. albomarginata is capable of digesting a larger portion of the prey that it has specialized in capturing.

Nepenthes albomarginata is a scrambling tropical pitcher plant, producing stems filled with pitchers. It also has highly variable pitcher coloration, having at least five unique taxa associated with it – N. albomarginata f. sanguinea, N. albomarginata var. rubra, N. albomarginata var. tomentella, N. albomarginata var. typica, and N. ablomarginata var. villosa. They’re all pretty cool, and I’ll add more photos of these as I come across them.

Other Nepenthes species & hybrids