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Gesneriaceae myrmecophytes

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Codonanthe (Mart.) Johannes Ludwig Emil Robert von Hanstein published in Linnaea 26, 1854, Type Codonanthe gracilis.  Basionym Hypocyrta section Codonanthe Carl (Karl) Friedrich Philipp von Martius in Nova Genera et Species Plantarum 3: p50. 1829.  Etymology is from the Greek word for bellflower.  Five Codonanthe species are predominant plants in ant gardens of Central and South America.  These are a dozen or more species of sparsely branched, epiphytic, scandent vines, with fibrous adventive roots from 30 cm long, attractive red stems, or are herbs or subshrubs with woody upright stems.  Leaves, somewhat succulent, small, rounded, paired.  Flowers many, attractive, waxy, strongly scented, bell-shaped, pale pink, white, yellow, lilac or deep purple with a yellow throat, Fruits, berry-like, ornamental,  Seeds resemble ant eggs or larvae and are planted by ants in the walls of their ant-carton nests.  Hence, most if not all Codonanthe species are ant mutualists.

  Range: Southern Mexico through Central America to northern South America and south-eastern Brazil (Moore 1973a, Skog 1978, Wiehler 1979b cited by Clayton Kazuo Kwock Hung Yuen 1982.)

  Codonanthe calcarata, Hanstein, Range: Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil. An obligate ant garden inhabitant according to Orivel & Leroy (2011.)

  Codonanthe crassifolia (H. Focke) C.V. Morton in Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History, Botanical Series 18(4) 1938.  Basionym Hypocyrta crassifolia H. Focke in Tijdschrift voor de Wisen Natuurkundige Wetenschappen 5, 1852.  Synonyms Codonanthe confusa Sandwith, C. formicarum Fritsch in Botanische Jahrbücher für Systematik, Pflanzengeschichte und Pflanzengeographie 37, 1906. Episcia hookeri Hanst.

  I quote Dr Sally Kleinfeldt (1978.) “A mutualistic association of the type named ant garden by Ule (1901) between Crematogaster longispina, an arboreal, carton-building ant, and Codonanthe crassifolia, an epiphytic vine, is found in north-eastern Costa Rican lowland rain forests. Both species gain an increase in food resources by participating in the association. The plant produces floral and extrafloral nectar and fruit with pulp and seed arils that are eaten by the ants. In turn, the ants place the seeds of the plant in the walls of their carton nests. The seeds germinate and the plants grow and obtain nutrients from the detritus with which the ants construct their nests. The growth rate of plants which are not on ant nests is significantly less than the growth rate of plants on ant nests.”

  Habitat: Costa Rica at Heredia, La Selva, in pre-montane wet forest, creeping on the upper side of a Ficus Fig tree branch.  Range: Mexico, Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama); South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.)

  Codonanthe macradenia Donell Smith, Range: Mexico, Central America, (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama.) and South America (Colombia.) An obligate ant-garden inhabitant. (Orivel & Leroy 2011.) Easy from cuttings or seed.

  Codonanthe uleana Karl Fritsch, Gustav Karl Wilhelm Hermann Karsten, Johann Heinrich Rudolf Schenck published in Vegetationsbilder 3, 1905.  A species associated with ant gardens.  Range: Mexico, Caribbean (Trinidad Tobago) Central America (Belize, Honduras, and Panama,) South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.)

  Codonanthe ulei (Mansfield) Harold Emery Moore published in Baileya 19, 1973.  Synonym Codonanthopsis ulei Rudolf Mansfield published in Repertorium Specierum Novarum Regni Vegetabilis 36, 1934. A species associated with ant gardens. Range Amazonas of Brazil and Peru.



Carl von Linnaeus published in Species Plantarum 2, 1753.

This is the largest genus within the Neotropical Gesneriaceae with about 300 species distributed primarily in moist tropical areas with high humidity from Mexico to Bolivia, including the Guianas, the Caribbean and Eastern Brazil.

The species of interest herein are semi-succulent ant-garden inhabitants and some are popular house or conservatory plants with attractive, red, hummingbird syndrome pollinated flowers such a the popular C. gloriosa.  Some species have leaves adorned with semi-translucent windows or variously brightly coloured patches presumably as guides to potential pollinators.

  Columnea byrsina (Wiehler) Lars Peter Kvist & Laurence Edgar Skog published in Allertonia 6(5) 1993.  Basionym Pentadenia byrsina Hans Joachim Wiehler published in Selbyana 2(1) 1977.  This species is not recorded as an ant symbiont but it is of note because its flowers hide under a nearby leaf should rain threaten but it is not known if it is the leaf or the flower that actually moves. Range: Colombia and Ecuador.

  Columnea linearis Anders Sandoe Oersted published in Centralamericas Gesneraceer 59, 1858.

Section Columnea, pink to purple tubular flowers. Range: Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, and Honduras.)

Columnea verecunda Conrad Vernon Morton published in Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History, Botanical Series 18(4), 1938.

  Habitat/Range: Central America; Costa Rica, Alajuela, in wet forest of the Penas Blancas Valley growing in a somewhat spherical Pheidole sp. ant-carton nest of about half soccer ball size along with other large resident epiphytes, hence in an ant-garden.

Propagation; Easily grown and increased from cuttings or seed if humidity is kept consistently high and always kept well above freezing.

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