Myrmecodia tuberosa (Ant Plant)

Myrmecophytic plants, ones that lives in close symbiosis with ants, in this genus have swollen, hollow, tuberous bases known as “caudexes” that are hollow instead of filled with water (as with Pony-tail Palms). These are epiphytes (living typically in trees or habitats not directly attached to soil).

Myrmecodia tuberosa (Ant Plant)
Deciduous: no
Hardiness Zones: 11
Height: typically to 75 centimeters (30 inches) tall
Diameter: swollen base to 40 centimeters (16 inches) in diameter
Growth Rate: slow
Age: perennial
Root System: Tuberous domatia (“home” for symbiotic ants) have modified roots that serve as spines to help absorb water (especially when epiphytic). Aerial roots also grapple onto host trees and sometimes encircle the entire trunk.
Family: Rubiaceae
Subspecies: none officially recognized
Tolerates: absence of soil
Problems (major): root rot (excessive watering)
Problems (minor): These may invite ants to live in them, although most growers in the United States would have different visitors (if any). Other insect visitors are typically thwarted away by the ant guests.
Poisonous: (presumably) no
Soil requirements: none, naturally epiphytic
Air requirements: prefer high humidity (native to Southeastern Asia and Northern Australia)
Watering requirement: low to moderate, requires high levels of humidity
Sun requirement: full sun (partial shade for smaller specimens)
Leaf shape: opposite, simple, elliptic, leathery, with clypeoli (sheaths protect the petioles, usually with spines)
Leaf size: petiole to 14 centimeters (6 inches)long, laminae to 47 (19 inches) centimeters long by 14 centimeters (6 inches) wide
Stem: corky, brownish-gray, herbaceous, spiky
Flowering structure: inflorescences covered in clypeoli when developing, sessile cyme, flowers white and small, bisexual, individual flowers to 11 millimeters long
Flowering frequency: unknown
Fruit: 1-10 pyrenes, red/orange, fleshy berry/drupe, dispersed by ants (presumably) or birds
Subterranean storage organ: above ground, typically epiphytic with a swollen tuberous base (a “caudex” or “domatia”) with a honeycomb-like interior (labyrinth-like)
Monoecious/Dioecious: dioecious
Notable characteristics:
This very peculiar epiphyte has a swollen base known as a “caudex”. This structure typically has spines for protection and houses ants. The ants get a home while they bring back food, help deter predators (they are VERY defensive of their living home), and disperse the seeds. The flowers are typically self-pollinating since even pollinators are detered by the guests. Structures known as clypeoli cover the petioles, stem-like structures connecting the leaves to the leaf scars. Certain compounds naturally produced by the plant have been tested as anti-cancer drugs.

Ant plants are sometimes used for medicinal or cooking purposes in their native range in the Pacific Island region. Some grow these epiphytes as ornamentals.
Sources used:

Myrmecodia_tuberosa Myrmecodia_tuberosa_ Myrmecodia_tuberosa__

All of the images provided were taken by me. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.


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