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Stone Jaguar

New Myrmecophytic Neotropical Ericaceae, Genus Ceratostema - Amazing Flowers

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As everyone on who reads this forum will know, ant-plant associations are everywhere around us, but are particularly evident in the tropics. Forum members are also well aware that MANY surprising discoveries in this loose group have turned up of late with - no doubt - many more to come.

A number of Neotropical blueberries (Ericaceae) are currently very popular with exotic plant collectors because of their handsome foliage and beautiful flowers. Recently I discovered that several epiphytic species of the genus Ceratostema from Colombia, Ecuador and Perú also possess well-developed extrafloral nectaries (EFN) on the abaxial surface of their leaves. Since these species also develop large lignotubers, it seems that the perfect match for fat plant collectors of strange caudex and showy flowers has finally popped up in a rather unexpected family.

One Neotropical blueberry species, Disterigma utleyorum, has long known to be an inhabitant of regional ant gardens and is rather infamous among regional botanical collectors for its close association with aggressive ants. A sample herbarium sheet (Wilbur 21706 ) notes, "Epiphytic and growing closely interacting with a large ant colony at its base. The ericad forms a picket fence about the ant colony capped by a 12-15 inch disk of moss." It is fairly widely distributed throughout lower montane cloud forests and foothill wet forests from eastern Costa Rica to northern Ecuador. Sadly for ant plant collectors, it is quite unremarkable in appearance.

I recently noted  conspicuous EFNs on the underleaf surfaces of a couple Ceratostema species that I grow in northern California, and an acquaintance has drawn my attention to a third that he has in collection in southern California. All three species (C. glans, C. sp. inderminate 1, and C. sp. indeterminate 2) are caudex forming and two are now known to produce attractive flowers. The smallest-flowered of the trio, C. glans, has typical corolla shape and color for the genus and is shown below.

286381170_Ceratostemaglans.thumb.JPG.05df2898db2f6f082410ff2800a93bdc.JPG

It is the other species that I am cultivating here that has - to put it mildly - shocked me with an unexpectedly outrageous, ongoing floral display that certainly awards it the title of "Most glamorous-looking ant plant".

As far as I can determine, this is an undescribed species from an undisclosed locality in cloud forests of the NW Andes with terminal inflorescences and  2.25"/6 cm wax-coated corollas.

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

505927122_Ceratostemasp_nov.habit.thumb.JPG.1d6f3512eb69a18307a6bda7e92ba5ae.JPG

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729548683_Ceratostemasp_nov.detail.thumb.JPG.0d7e7a3dc967bf2cac6555e8e4b6cae4.JPG

Fortunately for horticulture and unlike hydnophytines, most caudexed Neotropical blueberries will develop normal looking lignotubers from cutting-grown plants with time. I have two legally-imported wild-collected accessions, have rooted a couple small cuts as a trial and will also attempt to set seed next year.

Ciao,

J

 

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I really like the third image. It gives me ideas for a potluck. I'm thinking butter, sour cream, chopped green onions and bacon pieces would be good as toppings for that nice looking tater. I am glad you shared this. Amazing post!

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Yes, I agree that the lignotuber looks very much like a potato. With age, the lignotubers of quite a few Neotropical Ericaceae can become massive. I have posted an image on my website of a caudex on a wild Macleania insignis the size of a bullock's heart.

Flowers remain in perfect condition for more than three weeks and are quite substantial in weight and substance. A few more opened this week. The black inner tips of the corollas are remarkable.

J

1452587989_Ceratostemasp.flowering.thumb.jpg.9ac55d6e988366bc9790efae3932fb30.jpg

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I am adding Disterigma utleyorum to a 2020 edition of THE BOOK. (Currently it is raining again here) As an ant garden resident it warrants inclusion. I welcome any news regarding other epiphytic species. My impression is that the others mentioned above are terrestrial????

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Hi, Derrick.

These Ceratostema spp are epiphytic, but many others grow as terrestrials or hemiepiphytes. I have not observed EFNs on those terrestrial forms that I grow.

J

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