Heliamphora is a beautiful genus of pitcher plants from the Guiana Highlands of South America. In this region, near the common borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana, vast flat-topped mountains called tepuis rise 600-1000 meters (2000-3300 feet) above the surrounding geography. The edges of these tepuis are spectacularly sheer in a way that defies common sense. The tepuis sit upon the Guiana Shield, a matrix of humid forests and highland savannas. Temperatures on the tepui summits range between 8-20°C (46-68°F), with cold but generally frostless nights. Rain is nearly constant, with 200-400 cm (80-160 inches) annually. These chilly rains wash loose material off the tepui-tops, so soil accumulation is rare. Because the tepuis are separated from each other, evolution travels different trajectories on each mountain. Each tepui has its own composition of unique species--33% of the tepui species occur nowhere else in the world!
It is common for people to think of Heliamphora as a genus of "primitive" pitcher plants, but I think this is an unfair characterization based on four unfair tenets. First, Heliamphora pitchers do not have the large lids typical in other pitcher plants. This doesn't impress me, because the pitchers of Heliamphora instead have a complicated little structure called a nectar roll (or nectar spoon) that varies from species to species. Second, Heliamphora pitchers apparently do not produce digestive enzymes. Well, neither does Darlingtonia californica but no one calls that plant primitive! Also, there is some evidence that Heliamphora tatei does produce its own enzymes. Third, for a long time photographs of Heliamphora plants in the wild and in cultivation tended to show specimens that were all green, and not very attractively pigmented. This made them look boring. Newer photography of plants in the wild show plants of spectacular pigmentation patterns. Finally, and very silly, people have long associated tepuis with stories of "lost worlds", frozen in time and populated with dinosaurs. Heliamphora must therefore be a primitive genus. Bah!
The name Heliamphora nutans was created by George Bentham for the first species discovered (by Robert Schomburgk, in 1839). He intended the name "Heliamphora" to denote a "marsh pitcher" (helos=marsh). However, the name has caused many to translate the genus to "sun pitcher" (because helios=sun). But this sturm und drang is all very silly, as it is simply a common name of artificial construction, no matter how you slice it. I prefer saying Heliamphora.
Read more about Heliamphora at the ICPS sarracenia.com FAQ.
-- Barry Rice
Heliamphora information on the ICPS carnivorousplants.org web site:
How To: Heliamphora Leaf Pullings
Heliamphora information in the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter:
Ziemer, Robert R. (1979) Some Personal Observations on Cultivating the Heliamphora. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 8(3):90-92 (
Dodd, Cliff and Powell, Charles L. (1988) A Practical Method for Cultivation of Heliamphora spp.. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 17(2):48-50 (
Wistuba, Andreas (1990) Growing Heliamphora from the Venezuelan tepui. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 19(1-2):44-45 (
Baumgartl, William (1993) The Genus Heliamphora. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 22(4):86-92 (
Rivadavia, Fernando (1999) Neblina expedition. Carniv. Pl. Newslett. 28(4):122-124 (
Search the CPN Index and Archive for over 60 articles about Heliamphora.