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Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Ericales
Familia: Sarraceniaceae
Genera: Heliamphora
Species: H. chimantensis - H. elongata - H. exappendiculata - H. folliculata - H. glabra - H. heterodoxa - H. hispida - H. ionassii - H. macdonaldae - H. minor -H. neblinae - H. nutans - H. pulchella - H. sarracenioides - H. tatei - H. tyleri

The genus Heliamphora (pronounced /hɛliˈæmfərə/ or /hiːliˈæmfərə/, from Greek: helos "marsh" and amphoreus "amphora") contains 18 species[1] of pitcher plants endemic to South America. The species are collectively known as sun pitchers, based on the mistaken notion that the heli of Heliamphora is from the Greek helios, meaning "sun". In fact, the name derives from helos, meaning marsh, so a more accurate translation of their scientific name would be marsh pitcher plants.[2] Species in the genus Heliamphora are carnivorous plants that consist of a modified leaf form that is fused into a tubular shape. They have evolved mechanisms to avoid completely filling up with water and attract, trap, and kill insects. At least one species (H. tatei) produces its own proteolytic enzymes that allows it to digest its prey without the help of symbiotic bacteria.


All Heliamphora are herbaceous perennial plants that grow from a subterranean rhizome. H. tatei grows as a shrub, up to four meters tall, all other species form prostrate rosettes. The leaf size ranges from a few centimeters (H. minor, H. pulchella) up to more than a meter (H. ionasi). Heliamphora possess tubular traps formed by rolled leaves with fused edges. Marsh pitcher plants are unusual among pitcher plants in that they lack lids (opercula), instead having a small "nectar spoon" on the upper posterior portion of the leaf. This spoon-like structure secretes a nectar-like substance, which serves as a lure for insects and small animals. Each pitcher also exhibits a small slit in its side that allows excess rainwater to drain away, similar to the overflow on a sink. This allows the marsh pitcher plants to maintain a constant maximum level of rainwater within the pitcher. The pitchers' inner surface is covered with downward-pointing hairs to force insects into the pitchers' lower parts.
Insect feeding on nectar


Though often counted among the various carnivorous plants, with the exception of Heliamphora tatei, the vast majority of plants in the genus Heliamphora do not produce their own digestive enzymes (i.e. proteases, ribonucleases, phosphatases, etc.), relying instead on the enzymes of symbiotic bacteria to break down their prey.[3] They do, however, attract prey through special visual and chemical signals and trap and kill the prey through a typical pitfall trap. Field studies of H. nutans, H. heterodoxa, H. minor, and H. ionasi have determined that none of these species produce their own proteolytic enzymes.[4] If production of these enzymes was used as a strict demarcation of what is and what is not a carnivorous plant, many of the Heliamphora species would not meet the requirement. H. tatei is one of the few species observed to produce both digestive enzymes and wax scales, which also aid in prey capture.[4] The pattern of carnivory among Heliamphora species, combined with habitat data, indicates that carnivory in this genus evolved in nutrient-poor locations as a means to improve absorption of available nutrients. Most Heliamphora typically capture ants, while H. tatei's improvements on the design allow it to capture and absorb nutrients from more flying insects. The carnivorous habit among these species is lost in low light conditions, which suggests that certain nutrient concentrations (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) are only limiting during periods of fast growth under normal light conditions, thus rendering most of the carnivorous adaptations inefficient and not energy cost effective.[4]

H. nutans growing on Mount Roraima in Venezuela

All Heliamphora species are endemic to the Tepuis of the Guiana Highlands in the tripoint Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil, except H. heterodoxa and H. sarracenioides, which also occur in the Gran Sabana. Many of the Tepuis have not yet been explored for Heliamphora, and the large number of species described in recent years suggests that many more species may be awaiting discovery.

Botanical history
Flowers of H. pulchella

The first species of the genus to be described was H. nutans, which George Bentham named in 1840 based on a specimen collected by Robert Hermann Schomburgk. This remained the only known species until Henry Allan Gleason described H. tatei and H. tyleri in 1931, also adding H. minor in 1939. Between 1978 to 1984 Julian Alfred Steyermark and Bassett Maguire revised the genus (to which Steyermark had added H. heterodoxa in 1951) and described two more species, H. ionasi and H. neblinae, as well as many infraspecific taxa. Various exploratory expeditions as well as review of existing herbarium specimens has yielded many new species in recent years, mainly through the work of a group of German horticulturalists and botanists (Thomas Carow, Peter Harbarth, Joachim Nerz and Andreas Wistuba).[5]

Care in cultivation

Heliamphora are regarded by carnivorous plant enthusiasts and experts as one of the more difficult plants to maintain in cultivation. They require cool (the "highland" species) to warm (the "lowland" species) temperatures with a constant and very high humidity.[6] The highland species, which originate from high in the cloudy Tepui mountaintops, include H. nutans, H.ionasi, and H. tatei. The lowland Heliamphora, such as H. minor and H. heterodoxa have migrated to the warmer grasslands at the foot of the Tepuis.

Shredded, long-fibered or live sphagnum moss is preferred as a soil substrate, often with added horticultural lava rock, perlite, and pumice. The substrate must always be kept moist and extremely well drained. Misting Heliamphora with purified water is often beneficial to maintain high humidity levels.

Propagation through division only has a limited rate of success, as many plants that are divided go into shock and eventually die. Germination of Heliamphora seed is achieved by scattering it on milled sphagnum moss and keeping in bright light and humid conditions. Seed germination begins after many weeks.


The genus Heliamphora contains the most species in the Sarraceniaceae family and is joined by the Cobra Lily and the North American pitcher plants in that taxon.

Eighteen species of Heliamphora are currently recognised,[1] and these are listed in the table below. Unless otherwise stated, all information and taxonomic determinations are sourced from Stewart McPherson's Pitcher Plants of the Americas, published in 2007.[7]

Species Authority Year Distribution Altitudinal distribution
Heliamphora chimantensis Wistuba, Carow & Harbarth[8] 2002 Venezuela 1900–2100 m
Heliamphora ciliata Wistuba, Nerz & A.Fleischm.[1] 2009 Venezuela[1] 900 m[1]
Heliamphora elongata Nerz[9] 2004 Venezuela 1800–2600 m
Heliamphora exappendiculata (Maguire & Steyermark) Nerz & Wistuba[10] 2006 Venezuela 1700–2100 m
Heliamphora folliculata Wistuba, Harbarth & Carow[11] 2001 Venezuela 1700–2100 m
Heliamphora glabra (Maguire) Nerz, Wistuba & Hoogenstrijd[12] 2006 borderlands of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela 1200–2810 m
Heliamphora heterodoxa Steyerm.[13] 1951 Guyana?, Venezuela 1100–2300 m
Heliamphora hispida Nerz & Wistuba[14] 2000 border between Brazil and Venezuela 1800–3014 m
Heliamphora huberi A.Fleischm., Wistuba & Nerz[1] 2009 Venezuela[1] 1850–2200 m[1]
Heliamphora ionasi Maguire[15] 1978 Venezuela 1800–2150 m
Heliamphora macdonaldae Gleason[16] 1931 Venezuela 1500–2300 m
Heliamphora minor Gleason[17] 1939 Venezuela 1900–2500 m
Heliamphora neblinae Maguire[15] 1978 border between Brazil and Venezuela 1750–1850 m
Heliamphora nutans Benth.[18] 1840 borderlands of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela 1200–2810 m
Heliamphora pulchella Wistuba, Carow, Harbarth & Nerz[19] 2005 Venezuela 1700–2400 m
Heliamphora sarracenioides Carow, Wistuba & Harbarth[20] 2005 Venezuela 2500–2650 m
Heliamphora tatei Gleason[16] 1931 Venezuela 1700–2400 m
Heliamphora uncinata Nerz, Wistuba & A.Fleischm.[1] 2009 Venezuela[1] 1850 m[1]

Natural hybrids

At least five natural hybrids have been recorded:[7]

H. chimantensis × H. pulchella
H. elongata × H. ionasi
H. exappendiculata × H. glabra
H. glabra × H. nutans
H. hispida hybrids involving H. tatei and possibly another undescribed species


^ a b c d e f g h i j k Fleischmann, A., A. Wistuba & J. Nerz 2009. Three new species of Heliamphora (Sarraceniaceae) from the Guayana Highlands of Venezuela. Willdenowia 39(2): 273–283. doi:10.3372/wi.39.39206
^ Mellichamp, T.L. 1979. The Correct Common Name for Heliamphora.PDF (196 KB) Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 8(3): 89.
^ ISBN 0-88192-356-7 Carnivorous Plants of the World a. Pietropaolo p. 72
^ a b c Jaffe, K., Michelangeli, F., Gonzalez, J.M., Miras, B., and Ruiz, M.C. (1992). Carnivory in Pitcher Plants of the Genus Heliamphora (Sarraceniaceae). New Phytologist, 122(4): 733-744. (First page available online: JSTOR PDF of first page and HTML text of abstract
^ Information on dates and authors of descriptions
^ Rice, Barry A. (2006). Growing Carnivorous Plants. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon. ISBN 0-88192-907-0
^ a b McPherson, S. 2007. Pitcher Plants of the Americas. The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.
^ Wistuba, A., T. Carow & P. Harbarth 2002. Heliamphora chimantensis, a new species of Heliamphora (Sarraceniaceae) from the ‘Macizo de Chimanta’ in the south of Venezuela. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 31(3): 78–82.
^ Nerz, J. 2004. Heliamphora elongata (Sarraceniaceae), a new species from Ilu-Tepui. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 33(4): 111–116.
^ Nerz, J. & A. Wistuba 2006. Heliamphora exappendiculata, a clearly distinct species with unique characteristics. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 35(2): 43–51.
^ Wistuba, A., P. Harbarth & T. Carow 2001. Heliamphora folliculata, a new species of Heliamphora (Sarraceniaceae) from the ‘Los Testigos’ table mountains in the south of Venezuela. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 30(4): 120–125.
^ (German) Nerz, J., A. Wistuba & G. Hoogenstrijd 2006. Heliamphora glabra (Sarraceniaceae), eine eindrucksvolle Heliamphora Art aus dem westlichen Teil des Guayana Schildes. Das Taublatt 54: 58–70.
^ Steyermark, J. 1951. Sarraceniaceae. Fieldiana, Botany 28: 239–242.
^ Nerz, J. & A. Wistuba 2000. Heliamphora hispida (Sarraceniaceae), a new species from Cerro Neblina, Brazil-Venezuela. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 29(2): 37–41.
^ a b Maguire, B. 1978. Sarraceniaceae (Heliamphora). The Botany of the Guyana Highland Part–X, Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden 29: 36–61.
^ a b Gleason, H.A. 1931. Botanical results of the Tyler-Duida Expedition. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 58(6): 367–368.
^ Gleason, H.A. & E.P. Killip 1939. The flora of Mount Auyan-Tepui, Venezuela. Brittonia 3: 141–204.
^ Bentham, G. 1840. Heliamphora nutans. The Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 18: 429–432.
^ (German) Wistuba, A., T. Carow, P. Harbarth, & J. Nerz 2005. Heliamphora pulchella, eine neue mit Heliamphora minor (Sarraceniaceae) verwandte Art aus der Chimanta Region in Venezuela.PDF Das Taublatt 53(3): 42–50.
^ Carow, T., A. Wistuba & P. Harbarth 2005. Heliamphora sarracenioides, a new species of Heliamphora (Sarraceniaceae) from Venezuela. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 34(1): 4–6.

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