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Neotropical Ant Gardens - In Nature & Display Build

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As we all know, this forum showcases an amazing variety of Old World myrmecophytes in nature and cultivation, yet the Neotropical forms have been a bit neglected over the years. Due to an immense amount of confusion about the identities of some ant-associated orchid species, as well as the fact that some ferns, bromeliads and cacti appear to be obligate myrmecophytes in some regions but not in others, makes writing about Neotropical ant plants a fraught endeavor for those without boots-on-the-ground experience with tropical American ant gardens and their plants.

I have been toying with the idea of assembling a couple of hanging displays centered on Neotropical ant gardens after unsuccessfully trying to convince our local botanical garden that the associated flora are certainly of as much interest as the more familiar Malesian myrmecophytes. Sadly, "Big Myrmecodia-on-the-Brain" seems to be the order of the day over there...

Anywise, here's the first build, as a nod to the the staggering diversity of ant garden flora of the New World Tropics and one way to display them.







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Fantastic Piece Jay !!!!  Just great!   I can't get over how good your photos are.   Beautiful flowers. 

The step by step instructions and photos for building that display are priceless.   You know a lot of us are going to have a go at it ourselves!

Thank you for your continuing support of the forum both monetarily and with your exciting and insightful posts.   We appreciate you sharing so generously with us!!!


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Yes, a truly fantastic article that I will need to study in detail.  It provides new leads for additions to my 2020 edition and photos I would love to have access to.  Would future book editions provide much better dissemination to the world's myrmecophyte fraternity of the invaluable information Jay and his contacts provide? Outside of the jargon filled world of academia there are very few information sources for the lay public.

I certainly welcome others to assist or even take over my book project.  I also welcome corrections or whatever, but feed back so far has been virtually zero. Indeed, have my efforts been a waste of my time?  Yet from the constant rate of new members now joining my Facebook group from all over the world, it seems it is being spread widely.  Incidentally, I promote all of the pertinent information platforms. Being partisan as some so evidently are,  does NOT help the spread of knowledge. 

New World ant gardens were once better known than Old World examples, presumably because of easier access. Certainly it was thought (in Europe?) that ant gardens were only common in the New World tropics where most had long been studied (obviously rather poorly?). Dr Eve Kaufman (2003) in her ground breaking study found them to be abundant in the tropics of Southeast Asia."  http://publikationen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/volltexte/2003/273/pdf/KaufmannEva.pdf

Feedback. Its correctly Dolichoderinae.

The very large ant-garden sizes Jay quotes are certainly new to me and presumably to most if not all Old World field workers. Also, I am not aware if Australia has any ant gardens. I have never seen one or found a written record. We do have myrmecophyte guilds but that means little in this regard.

Already my 2019 edition is being superseded.

For example, explorer botanist Mark Gregory Rule has provided photos of another Philippine mistletoe species with an ant inhabited haustorium.  Of course, these photos raise more questions than answers without ecological study, but interest is being raised among those with access to these plant's habitats.  

Jay. Are your contacts working in the field sufficiently interested to read my book/data base and provide pertinent comments and habitat photos?







Edited by Derrick
typos and improvement.
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Thanks to both for kind comments.

Frank, hopefully we see greater interest in growing carefully thought out multispecies mounts by myrmecophyte collectors. The orchid growing community have been sold "species sticks" by a few US nurseries for some time but they are usually just a hodgepodge of species tied on a manzanita branch and priced 3X. I have already shown some mounts I did in Guatemala with Myrmecodia tuberosa and some Malesian Dischidia spp. about 12 years back, but there is clearly a great deal of room for improvement on my efforts.

Derrick, thanks very much for catching that vagrant "n". I usually snipe stray typos in the articles myself over time, but haven't yet had a chance to go over that one with a perfectly clear set of eyes.

I think that outside of the research community, the line between a "mymecophyte guild" and an "ant garden" is a bit blurred. I view standalone myrmecophytic epiphytes growing in isolation as one end of the spectrum, and these giant, complex parabiotic ant carton-based communities at the other, with everything in between as being some sort of "ant garden" or other in the eyes of many entomologists and botanists.

I hope that the images in the article showing mature Myrmecophila spp. as community anchors with "satellite" orchids and bromeliads growing in their immediate vicinity illustrate how variable these ant garden models can be in the Neotropics. These smaller ant-inhabited plants growing on the periphery of community probably both provide and derive defenses to/from the broader garden area dominated by cow horn orchids.

I don't have any of my friends or colleagues assist in editing my work except when doing a joint publication so no complaints on that end. Everyone I know is busy trying to make a living and building their own image banks or online presence, so I try and lean on them as rarely as possible and solely to provide me with particular images I need in order to generate fully original content. Neither Fred nor Ron are particularly interested in myrmecophytes, but do encounter them in nature during the course of their fieldwork. These men are obviously most focused on orchids. In this particular case, both were at localities in LatAm with ant garden plants whose images I wanted and were able to take some fresh shots specifically requested for this piece, apart from retrieving a few others from their archives, as a special favor.

Besides the species mentioned in the article, the 500 lb gorilla in the room as regards myrmecophytes, IMO, is Philodendron. This very large Neotropical aroid genus (~600 described species with well over 1,000 now believed to be out there), has MANY species with EFNs, succulent and semi-hollow petioles and birds-nest or otherwise litter trapping plant forms. I strongly believe that further research will reveal much closer relationships between some philos and ants than is currently documented. I also suspect that, as is known to be the case in some bromeliads, some are closely ant-associated and prone to self-pollinate at one locality and not at another.

Best regards,



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Jay,  I am quoting your last paragraph re Philodendron in THE BOOK.  Appropriately credited and linked to this site of course.  Thanks to this thread and Philpatrick's lead regarding myrmecophytic figs, I have more to keep me busy on rainy days.

My Facebook Myrmecophyte group is currently attracting a new member every day, and from many corners of our planet, which is surely connected to the release of my e/book.  One hopes that among the young, there will be the leaders of the future.




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