Nepenthes lowii

Ah, Nepenthes lowii, the ol’ toilet bowl for tree shrews. This tropical pitcher plant is famous for its odd upper pitchers that are not only shaped like toilets, but also act as actual toilets to climbing critters. More on that, below.
This elegant, funky Nepenthes was discovered atop Mt. Kinabalu by Hugh Low in March of 1851. Low, naturalist and British colonial administrator, wrote upon discovering N. lowii:
A little way further we came upon a most extraordinary Nepenthes, of, I believe, a hitherto unknown form, the mouth being oval and large, the neck exceedingly contracted so as to appear funnel-shaped, and at right angles to the body of the pitcher, which was large, swollen out laterally, flattened above and sustained in an horizontal position by the strong prolongation of the midrib of the plant as in other species. It is a very strong growing kind and absolutely covered with its interesting pitchers, each of which contains little less than a pint of water and all of them were full to the brim, so admirably were they sustained by the supporting petiole. The plants were generally upwards of 40 ft long, but I could find no young ones nor any flowers, not even traces of either.
The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens became home of the N. lowii type specimen (the specimen that defines a new species, being a typical example of the plant). In 1859, Joseph Dalton Hooker formally described N. lowii officially marking it a unique species of Nepenthes.

Unique biology of Nepenthes lowii

Trap characteristics

Lower pitchers on Nepenthes lowii are about 4 inches (10 cm) tall, reddish brown in color, cylindrical, with a medium striped peristome. The lid is the most fascinating part, with long hair-like appendages. The hair-like structures persist into the funky upper pitchers even as they morph into what appear to be miniature toilet bowls.

Upper pitchers have a wide, oblong mouth, a dramatically tapered waist, and a bulbous digestive zone. The lid is large and produces a white secretion with a fascinating purpose that we’ll cover in the next section. Interior pitcher surfaces are a glossy purple-red and exterior surfaces are mostly light green. N. lowii pitchers can grow to about a foot in height, and are a thick, woody texture. When dried, they retain their shape, and make nice specimen pieces.

Other notable characteristics

Amidst the bristles on the underside of the lid, the plant secrets a white substance. This ooze beads up as it accumulates, and resembles something akin to small eggs. They are so convincing that Professor J. Harrison assumed them to be snail eggs back in the 1960s. He even witnessed tree shrews perched on the mouth of Nepenthes lowii, snacking on the “eggs.”

When the N. lowii entered cultivation, Peter D’Amato and Cliff Dodd discovered the eggs to be, in fact, a direct secretion of the plant itself. Meanwhile, in the wild, botanist Charles Clarke witnessed birds and tree shrews feasting on the secretion, perched above the open mouth while their excrement dropped into the open pitcher. Animal poop is high in nitrogen – a great nutrient source for N. lowii. Because of this, the plant is affectionately referred to as a crapivorous plant.

Nepenthes lowii is a climber with stems reaching lengths up to 33 feet (10 m). That’s great, because it allows more room for those great upper pitchers.

Other Nepenthes varieties, species & hybrids