Re: In vitro Nepenthes

Andreas Wistuba (
06 Jan 1995 12:15:00 +0200

Dear Ron,

you expressed some ideas which I share but many others I do not.

You wrote:

> flowered N. rajah male and female in
> cultivation??? Unless the collectors were
> present during the pollination...

Experience tells me that more than 90% of the tissue cultured Nepenthes
that go round are true and I can tell this not only for the plants friends
of mine or myself give away. Problems with the accuracy of labelling
usually start when pure horticultural business is the sole cause for sale
(=_real_ large scale propagation for garden centers etc.). Fortunately
Nepenthes are not that popular so that smaller labs like mine (:-)) have a
chance to exist solely for the "hobbyist market". If you look around _who_
is propagating Nepenthes in vitro you see that most of the people are
really in the subject and know very very well what they grow. I would tell
the same for myself and this is by no means meant in an arrogant way.
Unfortunately it s a different story of accurancy of labelling with plants
which are grown in botanical gardens or other collections since decades,
unfortunately often by people who have no real botanical interest but just
need plants for display. In Europe many of such collections had to survive
two wars not to mention generations of gardeners with very inhomogeneous
interest for special groups of plants. It s simply a matter of likehood
that with the time the chance for accidental mislabeling rises. Cuttings
of such, mostly victorian-time hybrids or _rarely_ also species are often
given away for free to hobby growers who are often not experienced enough
to judge if a plant (often an adult one ;-)) is labelled correctly.
I further feel and that also is not meant arrogant (but maybe a little
proud) that relatively few people to which I d count myself have
introduced many species to the collections simply as a consequence of
tissue culture techniques. Others are now available at prices which
impressively dropped making e.g. N. rajah a plant everybody can grow
_without_ _paying_ _huge_ _sums_ _or_ _being_ _in_ _danger_ _of_ _buying_
_wild_ _collected_ _plants_. These techniques made it possible to
propagate species which could not otherwise be propagated at all. And -
furthermore the accurancy of labelling has greatly improved because almost
all plants sold really are what the label says.

> Don't just request the data, DEMAND it!...

Most suppliers (including myself) sell their plants not just as e.g.
Nepenthes tentaculata but as Nepenthes tentaculata (Gunung Rajah) in all
cases where it is still possible to trace back the origin of the mother
plant growing in a botanic collection or the origin of the seeds.
Unfortunately this is not always possible and in many cases exactly the
clones which are grown in botanical gardens for long periods of time are
the problem-childs where there is a chance near zero to trace back the

> In my opinion, the seller should be required to
> supply the following data with their plants:
> Collection location

I fully agree with you in this point as long as it is possible (see above).

> or cultivation source


> collection dates

Why? What s important is the location.

> if applicable, how long in vitro


> how long out of vitro (important for your
> success in growing a new arrival)

Of cause all plants have to be established prior to sale. However as you
should know this period varies greatly from species to species...
Only to give the info of a date does not mean that the plant is
established. In fact it means nothing for the grower who is not really
into tissue culture.
What counts in the end is only the state of the plant. No matter how long
the establishing period took.

> If wild
> collected, possible male parent

Come on, be realistic (;-)), who would like to camp near a location to
wait the three months from pollination to harvest his hand-pollinated
seeds - sorry, I could not resist......;-)

What really is important is the fact that the supplier guarantees for the
labelling and that the plants are well established.

> Ask your tissue culture source if they have
> grown plants on to near maturity or at least to
> a size that indicates a true identity.

I feel that every person including the gardener makes mistakes. That s
simply human. What is important is that suppliers stand for what they sell
and return the money or change the plants in case a mislabelling has
occured. I know nobody who never gave away a wrong labelled plant simply
by mistake...
... and I also know nobody who sells plants knowing that they re wrong

Most of the Nepenthes you and others grow would not be that widespread if
the suppliers had always grown a sample specimen to full maturity.
For N. villosa or similar species I d estimate periods of around 10 years
to grow them to maturity!
These plants would not have a chance to enter collections if there would
be such a lag.
And - _what_ _makes_ _you_ _so_ _sure_ _that_ _parents_ _which_ _look_
_true_ _really_ _are_ _true_. According to Mendel s rules this is not
necessarily _true_. The phenotype of a livig being does in no diploid case
tell everything about the genotype. You would need to do anther-culture to
have all genes relevant for the phenotype really expressed in the
phenotype and still - what s with all the genes which do not express
theirself in a clearly visible phenotype.
It s (in the strict sense) an illusion to speak of true or untrue species
at all when referring to the danger of hybridization.
You find populations of Nepenthes where nobody could guarantee that there
are _"true"_ individuals at all. Many plant species are of hybridogenic
origin, also including Nepenthes "species".
What is a species?
But to be serious again:
There are some populations (mainly disturbed ones!) which show extremely
high degrees of hybridization (e.g. Gunung Ulu Kali and it s three sp. N.
sanguinea, macfarlanei and gracillima) but in many other populations it s
difficult to find adult hybrid plants at all (...showing appearent hybrid-
phenotype ;-)). Well, if you look for seedlings you might be _lucky_ e.g.
to find a single N. lowii x tentaculata hybrid but such hybrids which span
that much of a distance within the genus usually are poor growers and rare
Mostly lowland populations with several "weedy" sp. like N. mirabilis,
alata, rafflesiana...which are closer related are in danger of "hybrid-
contamination" and if seeds were collected from a population where many
hybrid plants were found I completely agree with you that one should be
careful. Furthermore such hybrids often benefit from heterosis which makes
them even more weedy than the parents.
In contrast I d regard seeds from most highland populations as quite safe.
And - If somebody "accidently" gets a N. lowii x tentaculata hybrid
originating from the single grain of seed - oh, what a luck!!! Such
hybrids are so much rarer than the species in the wild...and most
suppliers -I m sure- would love to change this plant for the sp...

> BUT that is when they gear up to do
> thousands of each variety...

In case of let s say N. villosa it took me almost 4 years of screening to
develop a propagation-system. Now I have doubling times of maybe 6-8
months. If I would count the time I ve invested in many of the slow
growing highland species I could not sell them at all because I would have
to ask _really_ astronomical sums. But luckily for most of the suppliers
the main reason to grow in-vitro stuff is simply passion and love to the
Compare the prices of rarer orchids which in fact can be very expensive
with prices for rare Nepenthes and you ll see that Nepenthes are not at
all overpriced.
The opposite is true: Since there are quite a few people who try to sell a
few of their in vitro offsprings Nepenthes prices have dropped rapidly.
Think of a former really commercial source for Nepenthes which once sent
plants to all over the world from Brunei. The plants were all taken from
the wild and sold as soon as possible after collecting. Yes I mean R.
Cantleys plants... . Such a business against all CITES-laws by people who
would grab the last plant of a nerly extinct sp. from the wild in order to
get the best price simply cannot exist anymore thanks to tissue culture
Joachim, Heiko and I ve seen several populations of Nepenthes where we
would feel that tissue culture is the only chance to save at least an
image of the plant which will be extinct in 5 or ten years. Everybody who
travelled in Asia and left bigger cities to see the forest must be shocked
by the rapid destruction of rainforest by logging, burning and a fatal
climatic shift which very likely is caused by the first two facts. Extreme
drought-periods cause big fires which destroy whole regions and endemic
species in this regions.

Only to re-estimate...:

N. campanulata is extinct! -because the whole region where this highly
endemic species was growing is dead due to huge fires.
N. clipeata is almost extinct! -because large parts of G. Kelam are burnt.
It s just a matter of time...:-(

As the frequent fires are a cause of a shift in the rain-dry season
periods more to a drier year I see little chance for many of the endemic
species to survive the next 10 or 20 years.
As we are currently destroying our planet maybe we should at least try to
keep such images for coming generations in order to show what once
...seed of the species mentioned above should have been brought before it
was too late...:-(

> to fund direct operating expenses, but I
> imagine that a good part goes to cover past and
> future seed hunts.

I m wondering why you discuss your _imaginations_ _about_ _people_ _you_
_do_ _not_ _really_ _know_ in the public...
I in contrast _thought_ that you _exactly_ _know_ prices for laminar-flow-
hoods, autoclaves, balances, ... and so on but maybe I m wrong ;-].

All the best


Andreas Wistuba
Mudauer Ring 227; 68259 Mannheim; Germany
Tel.: +49 621 705471 Fax: +49 621 711307
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