Nepenthes clipeata is a spectacular pitcher plant from Borneo. It originally occurred between 600-800 m altitude on the summit and cliff faces of Mount Kelam, a steep-sided granite outcrop in West Kalimantan.
During the 1980s, Nepenthes enthusiasts and plant collectors began to visit Mount Kelam and started to poach N. clipeata plants from the wild. Local communities in the lowlands soon learned of the value of the plants and harvested increasing numbers to sell in markets and villages. The combined effect of poaching by locals and foreign Nepenthes enthusiasts was a catastrophic decline in the wild population of this species. The loss was compounded by drought and wild fires caused by El Niño events during the early 1990s, and by 1995, N. clipeata had been driven to the brink of extinction.
Today, it is virtually impossible to observe N. clipeata plants growing on Mount Kelam. Small numbers of plants may persist in inaccessible points on the mountain where poachers cannot easily reach them, but the viability of any remnant populations is questionable. The decline of this, one of the most beautiful and rare of all Nepenthes, is the terrible legacy of the selfish and grotesque greed of local and foreign visitors to Mount Kelam and the total failure of local authorities to protect endemic biodiversity. Searches for further populations of this unique species at sites near to Mount Kelam have been unsuccessful.
The original populations of N. clipeata grew terrestrially, in eroded gullies, on ledges and in crevices amidst scant scrub and vegetation, usually in direct or strong sunlight. While this species readily formed stems up to 2 m in length, it was incapable of growing upright unaided, since its stem could not support the weight of the plant’s foliage. For lack of surrounding support, it mostly grew as a straggling scrambler, trailing prostrate across the ground, or appressed against the vertical cliff faces of Mount Kelam. Natural hybrids with N. albomarginata and N. reinwardtiana are recorded.
The lamina is up to 20 cm long and 20 cm wide and is exceptional in that it is ovate to almost entirely circular in shape. The leaf is strongly peltate, with the tendril emerging from the underside of the leaf at a distance of approximately one third from the leaf apex. The base of the leaf is petiolate and the petiole is canaliculate, up to 10 cm long and clasps the stem. The pitchers of this species are borne on short tendrils usually less than 12 cm long and do not generally coil. The lamina is green, the stem is usually dark red and the midrib and tendril may be yellow, green or suffused red. Most parts of the plant, except for the upper surface of the lamina, are covered with brown hairs up to 5 mm long. Although the species is generally regarded as producing only one type of pitcher, tendril attachment does vary according to leaf position, as in all Nepenthes. Leaves located toward the base of a plant therefore exhibit tendril attachment toward the front of the pitcher, whereas in more distal leaves, tendril attachment is toward the back of the pitcher. Nevertheless, unlike most Nepenthes, the shape and relative proportions of the pitchers of N. clipeata remain fairly consistent at all growth stages of a plant.
The bottom fifth to third of the pitcher is ovate or globose, the part above this narrowing considerably. The upper parts toward the pitcher opening are cylindrical to infundibular, and in some individuals, there may be a slight constriction immediately below the peristome. The pitchers are up to 30 cm tall and 10 cm wide. The peristome is flattened, up to 10 mm wide, and may be slightly expanded at the sides of the pitcher opening. The peristome is lined with very fine ribs up to 0.3 mm high, spaced up to 0.3 mm apart. In mature plants, wings are consistently reduced to narrow ridges, but these are sometimes hardly discernible at all. The lid is ovate to cordate, up to 7 cm long and 5 cm wide and strongly vaulted, especially towards the base. Danser (1928) recorded that a “laterally flattened ear-shaped or claw-shaped” appendage is present on the lower surface of the lid. The spur is thick, unbranched and up to 10 mm long.
Plants grown in cultivation have shown that the traps of very young specimens may be lined with narrow wings up to 3 mm wide, sparsely fringed with filaments up to 5 mm in length. These pitchers, which may be regarded as true lower pitchers, are also less elongated, with a proportionally enlarged bulbous base. Once pitchers larger than 5 cm are produced, the shape of the traps is generally as described above.
The pitchers of N. clipeata are predominantly cream coloured or, especially in bright sunlight, white. They are often marked with faint dark red blotches on the exterior and more conspicuous purple blotches on the interior. The lid is white, lined predominantly on the lower surface with small, dark red or purple flecks, and the peristome is white, striped with narrow bands of dark red and purple.
The inflorescence is a raceme, to 45 cm long. The peduncle is up to 25 cm long, the rachis up to 20 cm long. Flowers are borne on 2-flowered partial peduncles, the pedicels up to 15 mm long. Tepals are oval-oblong and less than 5 mm long. The leaf of N. clipeata is so unusually shaped that it could only be compared to the uniquely broad-leaved N. truncata. However, the leaves and pitchers of these two species are very distinctive and very different. N. clipeata is unlikely to be confused with any other known species.
A detailed description of N. clipeata extracted from Stewart McPherson’s Pitcher Plants of the Old World (2009) can be freely downloaded here.
Nepenthes clipeata is among the most critically imperiled of all Nepenthes. The only known population of this plant may already be extinct in the wild, and with no local infrastructure or government interest in safeguarding this plant or its habitat, the immediate future of this species in the wild seems hopeless.
A more detailed assessment of the conservation status of N. clipeata can be downloaded here.
It is of paramount importance that all lineages of N. clipeata are retained in cultivation and propagated to preserve the reproductive potential of this species. If you grow distinct strains of N. clipeata that are not in the Rare Nepenthes Collection, and are willing to donate or sell plants, cuttings or seeds of legally cultivated plants to Ark of Life, please contact the Rare Nepenthes Collection team through this contact page of this website. At present, it is not clear if strains of both sexes are in cultivation.
If you cultivate N. clipeata, but are unable to contribute material to the Rare Nepenthes Collection, however would still like to help save this species, please register your plants with Ark of Life, so that we can develop a breeding programme and record all plants of this critically endangered plant in cultivation.
Sustainably produced, tissue cultured N. clipeata plants, propagated with zero impact on wild populations can be purchased from the following sources;
Borneo Exotics www.borneoexotics.com
The Nepenthes Nursery www.wistuba.com
Nepenthes clipeata photographed on the slopes of Mount Kelam (now extinct, or practically so).
Cultivated N. clipeata plants
CULTIVATION DETAILS NEEDED