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Monograph of Nepenthaceae

Nepenthes, or Asian pitcher plants, are the single genus in this family.  They occur from Madagascar to the western Pacific but most of the c. 120 species occur in the cloud forests of SE Asia.  New species to science are still coming to light frequently.  Many of the species are highly localised in the wild and threatened with extinction.  Over collecting in the wild for the horticultural trade, and habitat destruction for agriculture are the main threats.  A new taxonomic monograph of the genus is needed since the last, by Macfarlane in 1908, is outdated.  Nepenthes are well known for being carnivorous, trapping animals, from ants to rodents.

The project is to complete a taxonomic monograph in 2015 builds on a skeletal revision of the genus published in 1997 by Jebb & Cheek, and the Flora Malesiana account by Cheek & Jebb (2001), which deals with the majority of the species.  In the last five years the same authors have completed accounts for Flora of China, Flora of Thailand and Flora Peninsula Malaysia, in addition to papers publishing new species.  The heavily illustrated taxonomic monograph will draw these together, in a new framework informed by morphological and molecular analyses.

RBG Kew's living collections provide crucial support for this project.  Including many poorly known species otherwise known to science only from fragmentary herbarium specimens, they allow all different stages of a plant to be studied for the first time.  They also allow analysis of structures impossible to view or not readily seen in herbarium material.

Kew has a long tradition of work on Nepenthes.  Joseph Hooker completed the first revision and described many of the world's most spectacular species.  Kew's micropropagation pioneered the development of cultures from seed in the 1970s and 1980s.  Species such as Nepenthes rajah Hook.f. which had been highly threatened by collection of plants from the wild, became widely available through this tissue culture work.

Project partners and collaborators

Project team

Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives

Martin Cheek

Conservation, Living Collections & Estates

Nick Johnson, James Beattie

Project Leader: