The Cambodian government has been forced to urge people to stop picking rare plants famed for their resemblence to male genitalia.
Sharing images taken from a viral video of three women picking and posing with the carnivorous plants, the Cambodian environment ministry wrote on Facebook: “What they are doing is wrong and please don’t do it again in the future.
“Thank you for loving natural resources, but don’t harvest them so they go to waste.”
It is less than a year since the ministry issued a previous plea for people not to pick the phallic-looking plants in order to ensure their survival, after “a small number of tourists” were caught doing so.
The plants in question are of the Nepenthes genus, which have sometimes been jokingly dubbed “penis plants” or “penis flytraps” after images of them have gone viral online.
The tropical plants are carnivorous, and their cylindrical bodies contain acidic fluid, which they use to kill the insect prey they attract by secreting nectar from the rim at the trap’s entrance.
While Cambodia is home to five types of these pitcher plants, only two species – N. holdenii and N. bokorensis – are endemic to the country, both of which are found in the southwest in nearby mountain ranges.
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Jeremy Holden, a wildlife photographer who first discovered the N. holdenii species – the location of which is known only to a small number of researchers – said the plants in the images shared by the Cambodian environment ministry last week appeared to be the more commonly found N. bokorensis.
"My plant grows at a few secret locations in the Cardamom Mountains,” Mr Holden told LiveScience. “Bokorensis occurs on the far more accessible Phnom Bokor, which has undergone extensive development in recent years.”
A study published last year in the Cambodian Journal of Natural History warned that the plants’ natural habitats in Cambodia have been “severely reduced” – both in private lands, for agricultural expansion, and in protected areas, for the tourism industry.
Both species can be regarded as critically endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria, the study noted.