The three women screamed and giggled as they plucked the tubular pitchers of rare carnivorous plants in the mountains of Cambodia. The pitchers’ phallic shape reminded them of something, they joked when a friend filmed the scene with a phone.
“Everyone! This looks very familiar to me, as I’ve seen it before,” says a woman in a blue dress, enthusiastically picking up the pitchers of the Nepenthes mirabilis plant. “There are a lot of them here. Oh my God!”
The women broke off some of the distinctive appendages that the plants use to trap insects. They held them suggestively in front of the camera and compared the size of the pitchers to the physique of several men from different parts of Cambodia. “I want them all,” the woman in blue says, showing off four picked pitchers for the camera.
The much-watched video prompted Cambodia’s environment ministry last week to warn the public not to pick the pitchers of the plant, an endangered and legally protected plant. Conservationists fear the growing popularity of smartphones and selfies could increase pressure on the rare plants.
“What they did was wrong,” the ministry said in a post on its Facebook page over photos of the women picking and holding the pitchers. “Don’t do it again in the future. Thank you to everyone who loves and cherishes our natural resources. But please don’t pick the Nepenthes plant or you’ll destroy it.”
The women have not been publicly identified and the government does not want to punish them, the ministry said.
There are over 100 species of Nepenthes, one of several genera of carnivorous plants found around the world. The Nepenthes evolved to produce an elongated container, known as a pitcher, with a lid that can close and trap insects in it. The pitcher secretes nectar that attracts insects.
Once caught, the insects slowly dissolve in the pitcher, which absorbs the nutrients. The ability to catch insects allows the Nepenthes to grow in poor soil. In certain species of Nepenthes, the jug has a phallic appearance when the lid is closed. The resemblance may be so striking that some species of Nepenthes have been nicknamed the “penis flytrap.”
Neth Sopheaktra, a spokesman for the environment ministry, said Cambodia has five species of Nepenthes, and all of them are protected.
Some websites have identified the plants in the video as Nepenthes bokorensis or Nepenthes holdenii. But Neth Sopheaktra said the species the women picked is actually the Nepenthes mirabilis, found in Cambodia’s Bokor Mountains.
“Because this plant is a rare species, we need to protect it,” he said on Wednesday. “The Ministry of Environment is training all people to conserve this plant.”
After the ministry issued its warning, it said it received mostly positive reactions from the public. “Now more people are loving nature and working with governments to conserve biodiversity,” he said.
The problem of people seeking and picking the Nepenthes pitchers is relatively new, Neth Sopheaktra said. “This has happened very recently and has spread online, which could lead to bad behavior from other visitors,” he said.
Roun Ry in Phnom Penh reported.