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Cactaceae myrmecophytes


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Strophocactus testudo (Karw. ex Zucc.) Ralph Bauer published in Cactaceae Syst. Init. 17, 2003.)  Basionym Cereus testudo Karwinsky who attributed the name to Zuccarini, published in Abhandlungen der Mathematisch-Physikalischen Classe der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 2, 1837. Synonyms, Cereus pterogonus Lemaire 1839. Cereus pentapterus Otto in Salm-Dyck 1850. Cereus miravallensis F. A. C. Weber 1902. Deamia testudo (Karwinsky) Britton and Rose; published in The Cactaceae; 2, 1920.  Deamia diabolica Clover, Bulletin Torrey Botanical Club 65, 1938. Selenicereus testudo (Karwinsky ex Zuccarini) Franz Buxbaum published in Kakteen 1(VI), 1965. Popular names, Pitaya de Tortuga, Devil Guts, Dog Tail cactus.

  “One of the interesting plant species at Santa Rosa is a climbing cactus, Deamia testudo (sic). This cactus snakes along tree trunks and branches, and has swollen sections of stem that tightly clasp the tree surface, forming large chambers underneath. These chambers appear entirely suberized (cork-like) but roots do extend from the "ceiling." The structure is reminiscent of ant-epiphytes such as Dischidia and Myrmecodia. "I once found a large colony of Camponotus conspicuus zonatus nesting in Deamia chambers. I kept uncovering nests throughout the crown area, and it is likely they were all part of one extended polydomous (multi nest) colony.” (www.antweb.org).  The occurrence of ant occupancy in this species has also been reported by Cota et al. (1995) in the American Cactus & Succulent Society journal.

  Description: Plants climbing, tightly clinging to rocks and trees to several meters, wrapped around branches like a snake; stems strongly 3-7 angled, wings 1-7 cm wide, rather thin, all of them often drawn down towards the substrate and forming chambers inhabited by roots, ants and presumably their debris, green, not glaucous in fresh material, in dry material often with shiny and exfoliating cuticle; margins shallowly crenate, the lobes 1- 3 x 0.1- 0.3 cm, areoles with dense wool and numerous tan to reddish brown spines 5-15+ mm, often also with hair-spines, the spines and spine-hairs often bearing abundant, minute (<0.1 mm) hairs or pustules.

Flowers 20-27 cm; tepals 8-10 cm, white to cream-colored; ovary bracteoles minute, subtending a dense ball of tan wool and numerous orange to reddish brown spine-hairs to 20+ mm, often also with short spines. Fruits globose about 5 cm, bright red, the pulp white, wool and stiff spines persistent; seeds somewhat elongate, pear-shaped, 1.8-3 mm, smooth, shiny black.

  Habitats: Dry forest from sea level to 250 m (820 ft.)  (Hammel, Cactaceae; Manual Flora of Guatemala, a work in progress: Apr 2000.)  Mostly on trees but also on rocks a little above sea level.

  Range: Mexico, Chihuahua State, Veracruz State near Minatitlán City, widespread on Yucatan Peninsula. Belize: type collection from Corozal District. Guatemala: Izabal and Zacapa Departments (Atlantic side,) also in Retalhuleu and probably all other Pacific coast Departments. Honduras: Climbing trees in forests on lower mountain slopes of Cerros de Cangrejal (Cordillera el Cangrejal) near La Ruidosa, Atlántida Regionci. Nicaragua: Reserva Tomabu and near Jinotega. Costa Rica: In Guanacaste Province on the Pacific coast.


Selenicereus wittii (K. Schumann) Gordon Douglas Rowley published in Excelsa 12, 1986.  Basionym Cereus wittii Karl Moritz Schumann published in Monatsschrift für Kakteenkunde 10, 1900. Synonym Strophocactus wittii (K. Schumann) published in Britton, Nathaniel L. & Joseph N. Rose. The genus Epiphyllum and its allies. Contr. U.S. National Herbarium 16(9) 1913.  Common name Amazon Moon-flower cactus.

  Description: An epiphyte with no leaves but with (semi?) flattened bark-clasping phylloclades (leaf-like photosynthesizing branches) with spined edges that grow upward on the trunks and branches of trees somewhat in the manner of imbricate Dischidia species and are possibly utilised by nesting ants and/or perhaps other invertebrates.  Large, attractive, delicate, white nocturnal-opening flowers, are very deep-throated, hence a Hawk moth species equipped with a very long proboscis provide pollinating vectors but small beetles may also help. (Barthlott et al. 1997.)

  Ecology/Physiology:  This species is not only adapted to a hot, humid environment but also to being at least part underwater for a significant amount of time during annual floods, yet it uses the water conserving CAM photosynthetic pathway indicating that it may suffer water stresses during annual dry seasons.  Another most unusual feature for a cactus is having floating seed dispersed by flood waters and very possibly by fish.  Living in such a strange habitat, one wonders what possible symbioses or indeed mutualisms this unusual species might have.

  Habitat:  Hot, humid, Igapó inundation forests along black water rivers of Amazonian Brazil such as the Rio Negro where amazing annual floods reach about 9 m (30 ft.) sometime 15 m (50 ft.) above dry season river levels, thus these plants or substantial parts thereof may be submerged for weeks at a time

  Range:  Venezuelan and Brazilian Amazonas.


Epiphyllum phyllanthus (L.) Adrian Hardy Haworth published in Synopsis plantarum succulentarum. 197, 1812. Basionym Cactus phyllanthus Carl von Linnaeus published in Species Plantarum 1, 1753.

  Description: A large species with long drooping phylloclades that is regularly associated with ant gardens and is probably cleistogamous.

  Range: This plant name is now restricted to South American plants from Colombia, Venezuela, Guyane, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. (Bauer 2003.)  Mexican and Central American plants are to be renamed as a new species.

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I wonder about S. wittii. From my understanding, it becomes completely submerged under water during the rainy season for short periods of time. I had heard it has to do with seed dispersal but I'm not positive how accurate that info is. Maybe someone with more knowledge can chime in.

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  • 10 months later...

This confirms that the species from Mexico, Central America and a little of northern South America formerly accepted as part of the common and very widespread Epiphyllum phyllanthus is now E. hookeri.

E. phyllanthus http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/46520/0 

E. hookeri http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/151856/0 But does it also occur in ant gardens as does E. phyllanthus

As E. phyllanthus var hookeri http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=242415115

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  • 3 weeks later...

The true Epiphyllum phyllanthus is evidently at least partly viviparous, a trait we frequently see in other quite unrelated species that are of special interest to this group.  It certainly raises some interesting questions, but this is a forum so I trust that others will elaborate. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17975210

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  • 3 weeks later...

I grow a number of uncommon epiphytic cacti, including the Amazonian Selenicereus (Strophocactus) wittii. I was recently fortunate to have a plant that I normally greenhouse flower at home. This species is apparently somewhat reluctant to flower annually in some collections, so I'm pleased with this first bloom for me in early February. The flower is remarkable for the very long perianth tube and rather small flower for a Selenicereus spp.. Flowers are strongly fragrant and fully expanded from approx. 2200 hrs through 0500 hrs next day.


This species is definitely a true hothouse flower requiring high light, excellent drainage, frequent watering, and steamy but well-ventilated conditions to thrive.


Sadly, self-pollination at midnight failed this time round.







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Jay,  It is very evident that you are an immensely superior cultivator to me, so I trust your observations. Thus a plant species that is reputed to spend perhaps weeks under annual flood waters, yet requires excellent drainage in cultivation seems somewhat of an enigma for which I have not a clue as to a possible reason.    

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This is not an uncommon lifestyle for Amazonian flood forest epiphytes. I have only seen this sp. once in nature, in the Pacaya Samiria wilderness reserve in eastern Peru, so can't claim any real first hand knowledge of its ecology. The plant I saw was waaaaaay above the flood line on the trees we were cruising by. It was quite spectacular, fully exposed to sunshine with bright scarlet stems adpressed to the trunk of a fairly tall tree. In cultivation I can say that it can take at least twice daily drenchings when grown mounted in a warm, high relative humidity environment without the stem tissue expanding excessively. Grown dry it tends to dessicate rapidly and lose roots off the underside of its stems.

This clone is from the Rio Curcuriari in Amazonas, Brazil. It is widely distributed in US botanical gardens with good collections of tropicals and originally is a Marie Selby BG accession. There are other origins being grown in Europe. It would be useful to get it better established from seed in cultivation, but it is not a particularly easy plant to succeed with, unlike its vaguely similar looking lime green relative, S. testudo.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Bauer, R. 2003. A synopsis of the tribe Hylocereeae F. Buxb. Cactaceae Syst. Init. 17: 3-63.

"Intended to be a precursor to a monographic treatment" of tribe Hylocereeae (Cactaceae), this work admirably fulfills that function. Useful features include a key to genera, keys to species and infraspecific taxa for each genus and, for each species and infraspecific taxon, full bibliographic and typological information, synonymy, and a summary of distribution. Discussions are provided as necessary, and these are often extensive and insightful. The author’s generic concepts are in general accord with the Manual draft treatment by co-PI
Barry Hammel
, the major exception being that all the Costa Rican representatives of
sensu Hammel (i.e., s. l.) are here segregated in
Pseudorhipsalis; Disocactus
sensu Bauer (s. str.) occurs only from Mexico to northern Nicaragua. All of the remaining genera (
Epiphyllum, Hylocereus, Selenicereus
) are represented in Costa Rica. Many lectotypes, neotypes, and epitypes are designated in this paper, and many new combinations are validated (frequently involving a change in status from var. to subsp.), but just one new taxon (which does not occur in Costa Rica). Significant innovations relevant to the Costa Rican flora are as follows: the much-used name
Epiphyllum phyllanthus
is restricted to South American plants and replaced, in Costa Rica, with
E. hookeri
Haw. subsp.
(F. A. C. Weber) Ralf Bauer comb. nov.; Costa Rican material of
E. thomasianum
(K. Schum.) Britton & Rose is distinguished as
E. t.
(F. A. C. Weber) Ralf Bauer comb. nov.; Mesoamerican material of
Pseudorhipsalis amazonica
(K. Schum.) Ralf Bauer comb. nov. is assigned to subsp.
(Britton & Rose) Ralf Bauer comb. nov., and that of
P. ramulosa
(Salm-Dyck) Barthlott to the autonymic subsp.;
Selenicereus wercklei
(F. A. C. Weber) Britton & Rose falls into synonymy under
S. inermis
(Otto) Britton & Rose; and
Weberocereus biolleyi
(F. A. C. Weber) Britton & Rose is demoted as
W. tunilla
(F. A. C. Weber) Britton & Rose subsp.
(F. A. C. Weber) Ralf Bauer, with
W. panamensis
Britton & Rose as a synonym.
The peculiar myrmecophile lately known as
Selenicereus testudo
(Karw. ex Zucc.) Buxb. is reassigned to the genus
-apparently not even a member of tribe Hylocereeae-with the combination
Strophocactus testudo
(Karw. ex Zucc.) Ralf Bauer duly validated.
Finally, the mysterious entity known as
Disocactus kimnachii
G. D. Rowley or
Nopalxochia horichii
Kimnach, based on a Costa Rican type, is dismissed as "probably a hybrid between
and a plant of the ‘Heliocereus’ group" (neither of which is known from Costa Rica). Some of the author’s observations (especially with respect to
Disocactus kimnachii
) suggest (to us) that it might not be such a bad idea to collapse many of these genera (perhaps including several entire tribes) back into
. Illustrated with several composite line drawings, two color photographic plates (including Barry Hammel’s photo of
Weberocereus frohningiorum
Ralf Bauer), and two reproductions of colored drawings.

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