09 November 2016

We’re proud to be leading the way in helping to increase the population of endangered plant species, through scientific investigation and plant propagation programmes at the zoo and in the field.

Chester Zoo is home to one of the largest collection of carnivorous plants ever seen in the UK – the National Plant Collection for Nepenthes.

Many of the 160 known species of Nepenthes known to science are already on the very edge of extinction. That’s why our horticultural team is committed to protecting the future of these incredible and varied species.

We have around 130 species at the zoo and the skills and expertise of our staff is vital in ensuring these incredible species thrive. It’s important that we cultivate a key safety net population. Some of the species need plenty of heat and humidity, similar to that of the rainforests in Indonesia where temperatures can exceed 40°C and humidity 90%. Others originate from highland areas and prefer cooler night temperatures.

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Nepenthes rigidfolia – the new species of Nepenthes recently added to our collection

It takes a lot of care and attention to maintain the right conditions for these incredible plants when living in the middle of Cheshire, where temperatures and humidity doesn’t tend to get, or stay, very high throughout the year.

We recently added a new species of Nepenthes to our collection; Nepenthes rigidifolia which is another critically endangered species in the wild. There aren’t many specimens in cultivation either, making the plant even more precious!

Phil Esseen, Chester Zoo’s curator of botany and horticulture, tells us more:

“This particular species of Nepenthes is occasionally propagated from ethically-sourced plants, and the specimen we have in our collection had been grown by a specialist in Germany.

It’s important to keep this endangered species as an insurance population, as the plant is only known from one restricted location in North Sumatra, and is therefore extremely vulnerable. Following a recent visit to this site by a Nepenthes expert, it appears that the sole population of this plant in the wild may have been wiped our due to poaching.

Phil Esseen, curator of botany and horticulture

“Keeping plants alive in safe and controlled conditions means that if anything should happen to the wild population – for example a natural disaster or the ever increasing pressure humans are putting on habitats – the plant is not lost forever. It’s so important to try and maintain as much diverse genetic material as possible (e.g. plants from different parents), so that the future populations are sustainable and can potentially adapt to changes in their environment.

“We have been working on different methods of cultivation and propagation, using some of the more common species to start with to ensure we get the technique just right! We have propagated them both by cutting and by seed and have been experimenting with different growing media.

“Looking into the future, we will be working to increase the genetic diversity, especially of the more threatened species of Nepenthes, and we hope one day we will be able to support and establish conservation projects in the field to help save this plant in its natural habitat.”

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One of the different species of Nepenthes

Some of the zoo’s Nepenthes collection can be seen in Plant Paradise and in Monsoon Forest, whereas the wider collection may be seen by appointment only.