Nepenthes khasiana is India’s only pitcher plant, and is named after the Khasi Hills region of Meghalaya State in north eastern India, where this species endemically occurs.
The majority of N. khasiana habitats have already been destroyed, and remaining populations have declined severely as a result of unsustainable poaching and indiscriminate collection (Bordoloi, 1977). During the 1970s, in an effort to protect the remaining stands of this species in the wild, the government of India banned the export of N. khasiana plants and listed the species as critically endangered on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Today, N. khasiana persists at fewer than twenty sites found between 500-1500 m altitude. The status of this species in the wild remains precarious.
The lamina is linear, elliptic or narrowly oblong, up to 46 cm long and 10 cm wide. The apex of the leaf is acute or obtuse and the base is attenuate and sub–petiolate to petiolate (Figure 636). The petiole is winged, up to 13 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, and clasps the stem, often becoming strongly decurrent. The stem, midrib and tendril may be green, yellow, orange or red, especially in direct sunlight. The upper surface of the lamina is often dark green, whilst the lower surface is very pale.
The lower pitchers are up to 12 cm tall and 4.5 cm wide. The bottom third to half of the trap is ovate and slightly swollen. The pitcher narrows above this part and becomes cylindrical towards the pitcher opening. Wings up to 1.2 cm wide run down the front of the pitcher and may be lined with narrow filaments up to 5 mm long, though such filaments are often lacking. The peristome is cylindrical, up to 5 mm wide, and of a constant width around the pitcher opening. The peristome is glossy, lined with fine ribs up to 0.5 mm high, spaced up to 0.5 mm apart, but the ribs themselves are often hardly discernible. A gap of a few millimetres is often present in the peristome at the rear of the pitcher opening, below the lid. The lid is elliptic or sub-orbicular, often with a cordate base, up to 4.5 cm long by 5 cm wide, and lacks an appendage. The spur is unbranched and up to 6 mm long.
The exterior of the lower pitchers is yellowish green or occasionally orangey pink, sometimes mottled with faint red or orange blotches. The interior of the pitcher is yellow, orange or pink and the peristome may be yellow, green, orange, pink or red. The lid is the same colour as the exterior of the pitcher, but often has a red underside. Some plants produce pitchers with a faint orange or reddish band a few millimetres wide on the outside of the pitcher, just below the peristome.
The upper pitchers are up to 21 cm tall and 5 cm wide. The bottom fifth to quarter of the pitcher is infundibular and variably swollen. The pitcher narrows above this part, often forming a faint hip, and becomes cylindrical towards the pitcher opening. The pitcher also often narrows slightly immediately below the peristome (Figures 637 and 638). Wings are reduced to narrow ridges that run down the flattened front face of the upper pitchers, and may be hardly discernible.
All other parts are similar to the lower pitchers, including colouration, although the complete underside of the lid is often suffused pure red. A reddish band a few millimetres wide, on the outside of the pitcher just below the peristome, may be expressed, and often is lined with short hairs.
Nepenthes khasiana flowers from June until October. The inflorescence is a raceme consisting of 2-flowered cymes approximately 25-60 cm long, see Joseph & Joseph (1986). Some flowers may be borne singly on pedicels up to 13 mm long, with a minute, attenuate bract below. Tepals are oblong-elliptic and the anther head is borne on a column of similar length to the tepals. The male inflorescence is twice as long and denser compare to the female one. Fruits are 20-25 mm long.
Nepenthes khasiana has few distinctive characteristics that distinguish it from other morphologically similar species such as N. distillatoria, N. mirabilis and N. vieillardii. Since it is the only species of Nepenthes that naturally occurs in India and across a very small area, it cannot be confused with any other species in the wild.
It is particularly closely related to N. distillatoria, and distinguishing between these plants may not be straightforward. The two species differ most obviously in the form of their inflorescences; those of N. khasiana are more typical of Nepenthes in general, whereas those of N. distillatoria form a lax racemose panicle, with widely spaced 3- to 5-flowered partial peduncles. The lid of N. distillatoria is very glandular beneath and its leaves are only ever slightly decurrent, whereas in N. khasiana the glands are more diffuse beneath the lid and the leaves are often strongly decurrent. The shape of the lids and colouration of the pitchers also differs somewhat (see N. distillatoria species pages). Also, the lower pitchers of N. distillatoria are usually more strongly swollen in the basal section than those of N. khasiana which are comparatively cylindrical. Unlike all other western outlying Nepenthes species N. khasiana produces a raceme instead of a panicle, which implies closer relation to the Southeast Asian species. Microscopic differences of taxonomic value include the indumentum and structure of the digestive and nectar glands too.
Nepenthes khasiana may also be confused with N. tomoriana and N. vieillardii, but neither species produces truly petiolate leaves, and their pitchers are generally distinct in direct comparison, though the latter species, in particular, may show high degrees of morphological variation. Certain populations of N. mirabilis may also produce pitchers that resemble those of N. khasiana, but this widespread species is not known from India and generally produces finely fimbriate leaf margins, a characteristic that is unknown in N. khasiana.
A detailed description of N. khasiana extracted from Stewart McPherson’s Pitcher Plants of the Old World (2009) can be freely downloaded here.
Nepenthes khasiana is among the most critically endangered of all Nepenthes and fewer than twenty populations of this plant survive in the wild (Dr. Nagulan Venugopal, pers. comm.). However, the wild population of this plant continues to decline as a result of expanding agriculture, coal mining, limestone extraction, road and bridge construction, and of course poaching (Dr. Nagulan Venugopal, pers. comm.). Various in situ and ex situ conservation measures have been implemented by the Centre of Advanced Studies in Botany, at the North Eastern Hill University, and by the Ministry of Forests and Environment. The result of these measures is that some populations of N. khasiana are now permanently protected, such as at the delightfully named Pitcher Plant Lake in Jarain. The potential for long term survival of this species in the wild is uncertain, but will surely depend upon the continuing efforts of the local communities to preserve those habitats that remain.
It is of paramount importance that all lineages of N. khasiana are retained in cultivation and propagated to preserve the reproductive potential of this species. If you grow distinct strains of N. khasiana 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.
If you cultivate N. khasiana, 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. khasiana 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
Photos of the last wild populations of Nepenthes khasiana.
Cultivated N. khasiana plants
CULTIVATION DETAILS NEEDED
Note the diversity in pitcher morphology and colouration. These plants need to be conserved asap.