PHOTOGRAPHING SOMBOI-SOMBOI PITCHER PLANTS IN THE TROPICAL RAINFOREST OF SUNGAI LIANG

My current assignment took me to the Sungai Liang—Labi rainforest about 45 minutes away from where I live.  It all started with an overseas client request for photographs of large pitcher plants known locally as Somboi-Somboi. Originally the idea was to photograph the ones found at Belalong in Temburong, three districts away. I approached a number of contacts who are botany experts residing locally and abroad who know more than a thing or two about the variety found in our backyard.

Note that in my anticipation of this assignment, I erroneously typed the local name as Samboi-Samboi when it should have been Somboi-Somboi. I want to take this opportunity to thank Hans Dols (Brunei Shell Petroleum), Dr Ulrike Bauer (University of Cambridge) for steering me in the right direction and also  Neesa Johnlee (University Brunei Darussalam) for her “big blue sign” direction to where we eventually found these plants. She co-authored this BBC Earth News article with her lecturer. Last but not least, thanks Anthony for spending a precious afternoon away from commitments of sorts to photograph these pitcher plants with me.

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An interesting withered pitcher plant on the forest floor that resembles an owl. The pitcher plants in this post here identified as the ground nepenthes rafflesiana var. gigantea variety.

Carnivory is an answer to the lack of nutrients. While plants get their energy from sunlight, air and water, they still need nitrogen and phosphor to grow. Usually these can be found in the soil but in some places they are so rare that it’s hard for plants to grow. Some plants have opened up another source: living animals. With sticky leaves, quick closing traps or slippery pitchers they catch insects and digest them to get the precious nutrients. — Nephenthes from Borneo

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These are pictures of two baby pitcher plants found within ear shot of one another. One has a developed trap door (left) while the other is evidently work-in-progress. Both are no longer than 2.5 inches at the time they’re photographed. EOS 5D Mark II 100mm Macro f/2.8 Hybrid IS.

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It’s good to have a partner around when you need a hand with documentary photos. This is a photo of me shooting the baby pitcher plant you see above that illustrates their diminutiveness.

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Though we weren’t deep inside the forest, photographing these picthers to bring out their glorious details and colour, light is an element so rudimentary. Yet, I shot these in available light with the occasional help from sunlight that beams through to give me a nice backlight composition.

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I saw an opportunity for an abstract angle of a rather large pitcher and I took it even if it meant crouching on the ground at rather awkward body position. Shown here is the lid attached to the peristome (neck) of the plant with creamy background bokeh from the EF 100mm f/2.8 Hybrid macro lens.

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This is so perfect — a side by side comparison between an adult (left) and a younger pitcher. The pitcher plant documented below are the ground nepenthes rafflesiana var. gigantea.

OTHER MACRO FLOWER PHOTOGRAPHY : THE SLIPPER ORCHID

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The pitchers are traps to catch small animals. Though not all species use every method, they attract their prey with colour, smell and nectar. Some species are even known to have UV patterns like many flowers have. The brim of the pitcher, the peristome, produces the highest amount of nectar.

When animals try to get it they have to step on the slippery, waxy surface of the peristome and most of them are not able to walk there. They fall into the pitcher and then there is no way back.

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Seizing an opportunity to photograph this from a ray of from the afternoon sun helps with what would have only given me a messy silhouette in an otherwise unlit part of the forest.

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Another documentary shot of me uncomfortably crouched on the ground poking the hooded lens through the tangled elements to get a good vantage point.

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Ants are the most common prey for the lowland species. It’s extremely attractive for ants, and some pitchers are filled with them. The lower half of the pitcher which is filled with the fluid has a glandular wall, the upper half is as slippery and waxy as the peristome. The animals drown in the fluid and are digested by the digestive enzymes.

This ant (third and forth picture) appears to be the same type I photographed at the Sungai Liang Recreational Park earlier in the year though this one is entirely black, equally nimble and not camera shy. The relationship between ants and pitcher plants is a very special one. Read more about this on Nepenthes from Borneo.

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A larger-than-your-home variety black ant on the lid of a pitcher plant. Ants are likely attracted to nectar where the brim of the pitcher, the peristome, produces the highest amount.

Images captured with Canon 5D Mark II EF100mm Macro f/2.8 Hybrid IS and Canon Powershot G11