Habitat''Nepenthes distillatoria'' is endemic to Sri Lanka and is the only ''Nepenthes'' species recorded from the island. It grows in waterlogged open scrub, along road embankments and other cleared areas, and in forest. ''N. distillatoria'' occurs from sea-level to 700 m altitude.
Due to its isolation, ''N. distillatoria'' has no known natural hybrids.
Evolution''Nepenthes distillatoria'' was the second ''Nepenthes'' species to be described in print, after ''N. madagascariensis''. In 1677, Bartholinus made brief mention of it under the name ''Miranda herba'', Latin for "marvellous herb". Three years later, Dutch merchant Jacob Breyne referred to this species as ''Bandura zingalensium'', after a local name for the plant. ''Bandura'' subsequently became the most commonly used name for the tropical pitcher plants, until Linnaeus coined ''Nepenthes'' in 1737.
''Nepenthes distillatoria'' was again described in 1683, this time by Swedish physician H. N. Grimm. Grimm called it ''Planta mirabilis destillatoria'' or the "miraculous distilling plant", and was the first to clearly illustrate a tropical pitcher plant. Three years later, in 1686, English naturalist John Ray quoted Grimm as saying:
The root draws up moisture from the earth which with the help of the sun's rays rises up into the plant itself and then flows down through the stems and nerves of the leaves into the natural utensil to be stored there until used for human needs. [translated from Latin in ''Pitcher-Plants of Borneo'']
Linnaeus used Grimm's original specific epithet when naming ''N. distillatoria'' in 1753.
''Nepenthes distillatoria'' was again illustrated in Johannes Burmann's ''Thesaurus Zeylanicus'' of 1737. The drawing depicts the end of a flowering stem with pitchers. Burmann refers to the plant as ''Bandura zeylanica''.
In the horticultural trade of the late 19th century, ''N. distillatoria'' was often confused with ''N. khasiana'' of India.
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