This plant lives in a symbiotic relationship with a colony of ants. Hollow tunnels form inside the caudex (the swollen base of the stem) with external entrance holes, and ants can use the plant as an above-ground nest. In exchange, the ants provide nutrients for the plant in the form of their droppings, and defend the plant from other insects.
Natural habitat and growing conditions:
Native to the Solomon islands, this ant plant for sale is an ultra-tropical epiphyte (living on tree branches, though not as a parasite). It requires constant warmth, high humidity, and bright light to perform well. A resident colony of ants is not required if the plant is fertilized occasionally, though it has a fairly limited root system. It can be grown mounted, or in an airy potting mix; long-fiber sphagnum seems to work well if given perfect drainage.
Notes of interest:
- The symbiosis with ants allows the plant to grow in otherwise nutrient-poor locations on tree branches with little or no substrate; the ants effectively deliver nutrients back to the plant from a much larger area than the roots could ever get.
- Yet another example of convergent evolution, many other plant groups have independently evolved symbiotic relationships with ants, using them for pollination, seed distribution, nutrient sources or defense. Some are even obligate mutualisms-- the ants and plants are completely interdependent and cannot survive on their own.