The three women squealed and laughed as they plucked the tube pitchers of rare carnivorous plants from the mountains of Cambodia. The phallic shape of the pitchers reminded them of something, they joked as a friend filmed the scene with a phone.
“Everyone! This looks very familiar to me, like I’ve seen it before,” says a woman in a blue dress as she enthusiastically grabs 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, which the plants use to trap insects. Holding them suggestively for the camera, they compared the size of the jugs to the physique of different men from different parts of Cambodia. “I want them all,” said the woman in blue, showing four pinched pitchers for the camera.
The widely viewed video prompted Cambodia’s environment ministry to warn the public last week not to pick pitchers of the plant, which is an endangered and legally protected species. Conservationists fear the growing popularity of smartphones and selfies will increase pressure on rare plants.
“What they did was wrong,” the ministry said in a post on its Facebook page above photos of the women picking up and holding the pitchers. “Don’t do it again in the future. Thank you to all who love and cherish our natural resources. But please don’t pick the Nepenthes plant or you will destroy it.
The women have not been publicly identified and the government is not seeking to punish them, the ministry said.
There are over 100 species of Nepenthes, which is one of many 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 inside. The pitcher secretes nectars that attract insects.
Once caught, the insects slowly dissolve inside the pitcher, which absorbs the nutrients. The ability to catch insects allows Nepenthes to grow in poor soil. In some species of Nepenthes, the pitcher has a phallic appearance when its lid is closed. The resemblance can be so striking that some varieties of Nepenthes have earned a nickname: the “penis fly trap”.
Neth Sopheaktra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, said Cambodia has five species of Nepenthes, and they are all protected.
Some websites identified the plants in the video as Nepenthes bokorensis or Nepenthes holdenii. But Mr Neth Sopheaktra said the species chosen by the women is actually Nepenthes mirabilis, found in the Bokor Mountains in Cambodia.
“As this plant is a rare species, we must protect it,” he said on Wednesday. “The Ministry of the Environment is educating everyone to preserve this plant.”
After the ministry issued its warning, he said, it received mostly positive responses from the public. “Now more people love nature and are involved with the government in biodiversity conservation,” he said.
The problem of people researching and choosing Nepenthes pitchers is relatively new, said Mr. Neth Sopheaktra. “This happened very recently and spread online, which could lead to misbehavior from other visitors,” he said.
Roun Ry in Phnom Penh contributed reporting.