September 12, 2013

The Fascinating Ant Plants

       The Fascinating Ant Plants

several species of Hydnophytum
courtesy of and
Charles Alford

Hydnophytum formicarium

Ant plants are most interesting plants, growing in tropical mangrove forests and in a number of species of trees, but almost always growing epiphytically. Their swollen caudex bases are riddled with myriad channels and galleries, as if termites had already set up homes inside. These channels are purpose-built and perfect for the establishment of ant colonies. The symbiotic relationship of ants with certain genera of plants is a great example of plants and animals working to each other's benefits. The ants protect the plants from leaf-feeding predators, and the plants provide a safe home for ants, with some protection from ground-dwelling predators. The waste and detritus created by the ant colony helps feed the plant, in addition to providing protection services.   

There are many species of Ant Plant, most prominently in the genus Hydnophytum.  Other genera of Ant Plants include Dischidia, Rafflesiana, Myrmecophila, and in some cases, certain genera of ferns such as Lecanopteris.     


These plants can be effectively grown in baskets filled with long fibered sphagnum moss or an epiphytic mix suitable for ferns. I have seen several marvelous specimens growing on cork slabs, with small seedlings growing in the fissures of the cork. The plants seem to prefer strong light without all-day sunlioght, and watered frequently to prevent the plants from drying out. Consider adding one or more species of Ant Plant to your collection to broaden your scope of experiences.  

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens