Passion for pitcher plants

Ho talking about the different pitcher plants in his home. He keeps more than 70 species and hybrids.

When he is not busy working his day job as a mortgage consultant, Gaianno Ho spends his free time tending to his beloved pitcher plants at home and at a lot specially dedicated to the carnivorous plants in Taman Johor Jaya, Johor Baru.

The 27-year-old said his passion for pitcher plants began when his mother gave him one as a Christmas present when he was 14.

His love for the plants, also called monkey cups or nepenthes, led him to keep more than 70 species and hybrids at home, and his collection is still expanding.

“The plants in my collection include tropical pitcher plants, American pitcher plants and Venus fly traps.

“What attracted me the most to these plants, other than their appearance, is their nature, which allows them to survive and withstand tough conditions.

“Each variety is also complex, as its appearance and the way it grows have a strong correlation with its surroundings...soil, atmosphere and weather conditions, ” he said in an interview.

Wild pitcher plants like this one from northern part of Malaysia are at risk of being stolen by poachers who sell them overseas.Wild pitcher plants like this one from northern part of Malaysia are at risk of being stolen by poachers who sell them overseas.

Ho said pitcher plants were usually misunderstood as plants that needed a lot of care and fed on insects to survive.

“These plants are actually not fussy as they only need water and strong sunlight for at least eight hours daily to grow and develop a vibrant colour.

“They also prefer high humidity and stability, so we should just let it grow without moving it from pot to pot, ” he explained.

“When I first started out, I was quite impatient and moved them from pot to pot each week to help them grow, but that did more harm than good.

“The plant’s appearance and nectars will attract insects but do not expect them to help you get rid of those pests because eating insects is not their main function, ” he said, highlighting that fertilisers would cause the plants to become deformed, so none should be added.

He also said the plants ingested insects or bigger animals such as lizards and even mice to supplement its diet and grow more beautifully, much like how humans take vitamin supplements.

With his big collection, Ho said he usually did not take long holidays as he would be thinking about his “babies” at home, which had been installed with a misting system to water the plants.

“So far, the most I have spent is RM280 on a pitcher plant cutting but there are other enthusiasts who are willing to fork out about US$400 (RM1,655) to purchase a species from overseas, ” he added.

Ho said he would make observation trips with like-minded pitcher plant enthusiasts to places such as Penang, Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Gunung Pulai in Kulai and Gunung Tahan in Pahang just to document and study the plants.

He added that pitcher plants could be found everywhere, including near fields and on the side of highways.

With the knowledge and information gathered over the years, he and his partner Ali Ho have been promoting and selling a wide variety of the plants through a social media page called Carnivorism.

“We are also in the midst of growing our own hybrid but it is still too early to tell, as it has yet to flower.

“We hope to one day achieve our dream of having a hybrid pitcher plant and naming it after us, ” he said.

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