Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Are There Ants in Your House(plants)?

Hydnophytum formicarium

I was at my cactus and succulent society meeting this past week and this plant was a show and tell plant. It is so interesting. Hydnophytum formicarium is an epiphytic ant plant. In its natural habitat (SE Asia), it grows on trees. You probably know what an epiphyte is, but what is an "ant plant" you may ask. An ant plant is a plant that has a symbiotic (mutually beneficial)  relationship with ants. 
The plant forms a huge caudex that is filled with tunnels and chambers. There are smooth chambers and rough chambers. The smooth chambers are where the ants live and the rough chambers are where they put their garbage and excrement. The ants have a warm, dry home and the plants receive nourishment from the waste products. A win/win situation for both the plant and the ants. 

Hydnophytum formicarium caudex
Hydnophytum formicarium caudex a little closer

Hydnophytum formicarium
In the picture below you can see the orange fruit. They have white flowers, but my picture was blurry. The bright color of the fruit attracts fruit eating birds. The unusual thing about the seeds in this fruit is that they are sticky. When birds eat them they stick to their beaks and they rub them off on tree bark or twigs, thus the seeds sprout on trees. If grown as a houseplant, the seeds can be started in soil, but eventually they need to be grown in a media such as that which orchids are grown in.
Of course, we have no ants in our plants (or pants) when we grow these in our homes,  but in their native habitats, the ants are definitely in the house(plant).
Hydnophytum formicarium