Plant of the Month — January 2008

Cephalotus follicularis — Albany Pitcher Plant

Find out more about Cephalotis follicularis

This very interesting little herb, a member of the Cephalotaceae family is an insectivorous perennial and grows only in Western Australia on the south coast between Augusta and Albany. It has white flowers from December to April and favours peaty soils around the drier areas of swamps and streams.

Cephalotus comes from the Greek meaning ‘having a head’ or ‘headed’ and refers to the capitate staminal filaments of the insignificant-appearing flowers (see inset). The species name of follicularis is derived from the Latin follicus, ‘small bag or sack‘ and refers to the ‘pitchers‘. These are actually modified leaves which grow in conjunction with the normal, extremely hairy, leaves.

Cephalotis follicularis was collected in 1792, during the famous expedition under D’Entrecasteaux, ‘le Voyage à la Recherche de La Pérouse’. Jaques Julien Houtou de Labillardière was the naturalist on this journey who found and later described Cephalotus follicularis.

Within the interior of the pitcher are flask-shaped glands and enzymes which digest the trapped insects and release nutrients to the plant. Evolution has adapted Cephalotus follicularis so that the size of the pitcher determines the size of the insect taken into its interior. Of the many unlucky insects found in Albany Pitcher Plants, the majority are ants. Periodically, these plants are on sale at nurseries and if kept in a damp, shady section of a garden may help to control the determined ant population that threatens to overrun us each summer — and make an interesting conversation piece.

Photos: M. Seale, C. Hortin

Find out more about Cephalotis follicularis