The book of the mimicry of the living

Nepenthes Bottle Greenhouse

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I love plants. Both as inspiration for biomimicry and in their own right. Sometimes though, I hate them. Really hate them.


While it is a simple process (usually) to grow a cactus in a pot, or put an orchid on a coffee table, some things hate being inside, and pine away for the outdoors. They leaf drop and crisp up and are generally whiny, thankless room-mates.

Such plants are typically the ones evolved to live in wet, humid rainforest climates. Domestic houses are usually very dry places because we have roofs and keep them at a moderate temperature to make them comfortable, exactly not like rainforests.

If you’ve ever been to an equatorial, coastal country you can usually feel the humidity. The Koppen Climate Classification describes part of this. Those blue areas (Af, Am and Aw) are Tropical climates. Typically with the highest temperatures and the most rain.

Wikipedia [cc]

Wikipedia [cc]

So what can you do if you want to grow tropical species? Many places (such as the Eden project) use massive greenhouses. But if you don’t have a spare quarry to build a biomimetic ecosystem larger than 5 football pitches, why don’t you do the next best thing, and make a micro-greenhouse out of a bottle. It’s only around 0.0000009 times a football pitch, so you can put it on a windowsill.


For this you will need a tropical plant and a water bottle. Not the water though. Go use that for your #icebucketchallenge or something.

I’m using a Nepenthes for this experiment. Nepenthes is a carnivorous plant common around the costal regions of Oceania. By comparing the distribution of the Nepenthes genus to the Koppen Classification map above, this plant is obviously found in tropical rain forests. As such, it is highly evolved to thrive in a hot, wet climate, rather than on a plastic framed ledge behind West facing double glazing in South Wales.

Wikipedia [cc]

Wikipedia [cc]


Nepenthes, also known as a pitcher plant, or Monkey Cup

Having tested a prototype bottle greenhouse I know they can suffer from mould issues due to low airflow. This humidity loving Nepenthes is carnivorous too, so some balance between moisture retention and airflow will have to be made. The tag suggests that it should be stood in water. Though for most plants I think this is a massive mistake, for this species and it’s known association with peat soils, I’ll make an exception. Anyway, enough science, time for the build.

Step 1 – Bottoms Up

The first cut for the bottle should be the lower tray. Measure up the bottle by eye, and estimate where the rim of the pot is going to sit. Remember that many plastic bottles have inner ridges and mounds, so your pot may not sit right at the bottom.

I’ve cut a little ‘Y’ shape in one corner, I’ll explain later.

Step 2 – Top it off

I've also trimmed out the pre-existing details in the bottle as vents. they should let a little air in, as well as the flys.

I’ve also trimmed out the pre-existing details in the bottle as vents. They should let a little air in, as well as the flys.

Next get the top part off. I know I don’t need all of the rest of the height of the bottle, my plant isn’t going to be that tall. I’m still being generous with it though, and allowing adequate space for it to hopefully grow into.


The top of the bottle *just* fits the diameter of the pot, with a little squeezing.

Step 3 – Combo Beaker

Did you spot the little ‘Y’ cut I made in the base section? It’s exactly like a the old ‘V-shaped-cut’ from Blue Peter, only with another cut going down vertically at the point. To make a Y…

It’s really not that hard.

Well, it lets you do this.


“…and I’ll form the head!”…. “Wait I mean greenhouse”

All I’ve done here is take the top part, which is already very securely wedged around the rim of the pot, and with the extra give from the ‘Y’ shaped cut, nestled it in the tray. I’ve lined up all the ridges of the bottle so that the lower ridge on the top part lines up with the upper ridge in the tray, with the pot height perfectly lined up to intersect the two.

This is a beta release

So this is only my second bottle greenhouse, and I’m really keen to hear feedback. This is my first Nepenthes, so all I have to go on about their care is the logic from above and some further research I’ve done online.

What do you all think of the design? Is this the right thing for this genus? Have you got any thoughts for version three? I don’t even know what species this plant is! Hit the comments section below if you do!


Author: DaveParr

Data Science, Environmental Science, Making and Music

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