Pitcher Plant Alien 6
It can’t hear your screams either. Meet Nepenthes ‘H.R. Giger' a new pitcher plant cultivar named in honour of Giger’s nightmarish visions.

Though he bequeathed us a sweeping horrorshow of art and design, H.R. Giger's most enduring legacy is no doubt the eyeless, slimy, acid-spewing xenomorph that bursts its way onscreen through John Hurt's chest and takes over a spacecraft in 1979's "Alien". Decades later, Giger's nightmarish visions are still inspiring glorious monsters, this time of a botanical sort.

Unlike Giger's xenomorth, the carnivorous pitcher plant doesn't evoke fear at first glance. It's colourful, curvaceous, sweet-smelling. The horror is all about what lies within, after an unsuspecting insect (or perhaps a mouse) is lured to the pitcher's perilously slippery edge (the peristome), and slides down to bathe in the flesh-dissolving juices waiting in the pool below, never to emerge again.

But look closer and there's a certain Giger-esque quality about the plants' external features too. "When viewed extremely close and at an angle, the intersection of the peristome teeth and the lid spikes ... create a frightening alien landscape akin to those imagined by the late H.R. Giger," says photographer and horticulturalist Matthew Kaelin.

Perhaps that's why Kaelin looked to the Swiss Surrealist artist when the time came to name a stunning new cultivar of pitcher plant he'd lovingly nurtured after purchasing the plant as just a small specimen. His Nepenthes ‘H.R. Giger’, as it's now officially called, is a vision of yellows, deep reds and dramatic spikes. 

Pitcher Plant Giger Composite 2015 05 01
Left: H.R. Giger with a sculpture from the Alien films (© El Humilde Fotero del Pánico); Right: Nepenthes ‘H.R. Giger’, the carnivorous pitcher plant named in Giger's honour (© Matthew Kaelin)

Kaelin is quick to emphasise that the plant is not a newly discovered species, but a new cultivar. "A cultivar is an outstanding example of an existing plant, and is special because of particular characteristics that it exhibits. It must possess features that make it stand out from other plants of its type, and especially from other cultivars," he explains.

Cultivating those exceptional attributes is no easy task. Nepenthes ‘H.R. Giger’ appreciates humid conditions, cool temperatures, plenty of soft light and just the right soil mix. Its carnivorous appetite is satiated by regular servings of insects, and the occasional dose of seaweed fertiliser. "This is not something that would be considered an ordinary houseplant by any means," says Kaelin. Officially registering a new cultivar is no simple matter either – from submitting a detailed description and photos to a recognised plant journal, to the long wait to have it accepted and registered by the International Cultivar Registration Authority (ICRA).

As he developed his horticultural skills over the years, Kaelin also found himself wanting to capture his flesh-eating subjects on camera. "The plants inspired my use of photography," he says. "As time went on, I procured better equipment, and developed my own techniques to capture my vision ... My main goal is to present [them] as the monstrous and other-worldly organisms that I imagine them as." 

After more than a decade of cultivating carnivorous plants, Kaelin is also keenly aware of the threats his favourite monsters face in the wild. More than half of the carnivorous plant species assessed by the IUCN are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, and loss of their natural habitat to development is the leading cause.

But the plants' exotic looks and distinctive diets also make them appealing to poachers, who pluck them illegally from the wild. "The poaching of plants from the wild is an especially aggravating problem that carnivorous plant cultivators and enthusiasts are very troubled by," Kaelin notes. "Knowledgeable cultivators purchase their plants only from reputable specialist nurseries who never deal in illegally collected plants and support efforts to stop the problem through local legislation, raising public awareness and identifying the individuals who are responsible to report them to the authorities."

To see more of Matthew Kaelin's photographs of carnivorous plants, visit his website.

Pitcher Plant Giger 5
Image: Matthew Kaelin
Pitcher Plant Giger 1
Image Matthew Kaelin
Pitcher Plant Giger 4
Image: Matthew Kaelin
Pitcher Plant Giger 3
Image: Matthew Kaelin