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02 20/02/2014

Plants with an appetite

We are well known for our lions, tigers and cheetahs. But now some more unusual carnivores are going on show to the public... flesh-eating plants!

Nepenthes at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is now home to one of the largest collection of carnivorous plants ever seen in the UK.

We have taken on over 2,000 of the flesh-eating plants, with part of the collection about to go on display for the very first time.

Of the 150 species known to science the zoo holds over 100, with some thought to already be extinct in the wild and others in serious danger of extinction.

But our horticulturists hope that the new cultivation programme will create an insurance population, providing a vital back up to those left in the wild.

Curator of Botany and Horticulture at Chester Zoo, Mark Sparrow, said the unique plants would be part of the zoo’s new Bloom events which begins this month.

Mr Sparrow said:

“This is the national collection of Nepenthes (carnivorous plants), which is admired all around the world.

“It’s a dizzying variety of plants, which require some very different conditions. So it’s going to be a real challenge to grow them successfully.

“But with the talented staff and facilities we have here at the zoo, we’re confident we can cultivate a key safety net population.”

Carnivorous plants at Chester Zoo

Heat and humidity will be used to maintain conditions that replicate the sweat-box environment of the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo – where temperatures can exceed 40°C and humidity 90% - helping the team to grow the stunning tropical pitcher plants.

But one particular specimen - a huge, rare pitcher plant known as a Nepenthes lowii - might need some extra special care.

“The Nepenthes lowii has a very special diet,” added Mark.

“People used to think that they only ate insects but that’s not at all true. Look inside a plant in the wild and you can see frogs, rodents and all sorts of other animal life.

“These pitchers have evolved to survive in extreme conditions where nutrients have to be extracted from passing prey. They are enormously efficient and truly carnivorous.”

Chester Zoo took over the collection from a private collector thanks to support from the Finnis Scott Foundation, the Topinambour Trust and the Ronald and Kathleen Pryor Charity.

A number of the plants will now be going on show to the public to help launch the zoo’s season of Bloom events.

Bloom will include the opening of the zoo’s brand new wildlife reserve, the chance to meet plant and animal experts and workshops with resident artists and poets who have been inspired by nature.

Many of the events, which run from February until June, are free with zoo admission but booking is needed.

Take a look at our What's On calendar to find out more about our Bloom events.

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