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Squamellaria major in cultivation


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I have been studying and growing Rubiaceous ant-plants for 20 years now and there have been lots of exciting developments during that time.  Arguably one of the best developments was getting Squamellarias into cultivation!  Wow!   And then that introduction gets followed up with the fabulous work of Dr. Guillaume Chomicki uncovering the complex symbiosis some of the Squamellarias have with Philidris nagasau ants that has the ants "farming" the plants.  The ants "plant" the seeds, protect them and fertilize them (feces in the warted chamber of the seedlings).  The plants, for their part in the symbiosis, delay the development of the fruits for several months after pollination happens so that a special nectary on the top of the ovary can feed the ants of the colony!

If you need to catch-up with this research start with these two articles - available with free download at these two sites:          https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310608117_Obligate_plant_farming_by_a_specialized_ant    and   https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.13990

Even before these articles I knew I had to grow this species when I saw the habitat photos of this species that Derrick and Andreas posted here on our Forum of what looks like Australian rugby balls hanging in the trees with concentric patterns of holes punched in their surface. (see Derrick's thread titled "Squamellaria major" in this Squamellaria section of this Forum for some of those photos.)

My plant, which I bought as a seedling in July of 2018 from Andreas at the Nepenthes Nursery, is shaped more like a pile of dog droppings than a rugby ball and is covered with an excess of adventitious roots!  I have the large mass of adventitious roots because I am growing the plant in a high humidity orchidarium.  Here is how my plant looks today; it is growing in a 5 inch bulb pan:



In spite of its shape I can live with how it looks because of the thick, textured, and beautifully patterned leaves and the fact that it made its first flower on April 21 of this year and its first fruit today, July 12, 2020.

Here are photos of that first flower: (The flower in the second photo is lying alongside the inches side of the ruler.)




I was very happy to see that the flowers are self fertile because I no longer have the second plant of this species that I had originally obtained to use for cross pollination.


Here are two photos of the ripe fruit on the plant.  Note the veins in the fruit, the interesting color and the black marks on the surface of the fruit.




There are other flowers and fruits in different stages of development on the plant:  The mature fruit is in the background in this next photo.  On the left is a fertilized flower that is currently using the nectary on the top of the ovary to feed the colony - it has the white base with the greenish collar.  Just below it is a flower that just got fertilized in the last few days.  The style is still attached to the top of the ovary inside the green collar (the calyx) and the petal tube is decaying but still hanging on the style.



This view of the fruit shows the small black spots better: (the numbered lines are centimeters, the unnumbered are millimeters in the next 3 photos.)



I pulled the fruit apart and found the expected 4 seeds inside




The seeds each have an elaborate tail, much more fibrous than the mucus-like tail on Myrmecodia seeds.  The seed to the right of the other 3 has a small protuberance showing on the side of the seed opposite the tail.  I suspect it may be the radical, the tip of the root, that leaves the seed first on germination.  I fear I broke it off of two of the seeds.  I have already planted the seeds on chopped up long-fiber sphagnum, so I will know if I messed up those two seeds soon enough.



These Squamellarias are surely different than the Hydnophytums and Myrmecodias!  I have to say I have really enjoyed growing this plant --- I just need it to start looking like a rugby ball soon!!!

PS. The next morning 3 of the 4 seeds are germinating.  This is fast, even by ant-plant standards!

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Fantastic Frank!  You surely have done well with the various Squamellaria!  My S. major still look like pieces of string beans -with roots at one end and a profusion of leaves- but no appreciable growth on the caudex.  Can you share your growing media recipe and also your fertilizing regime?  Thanks!   

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What do I use for a growing media for Rubiaceous ant-plants you ask!  The answer has changed many times over the years.

What I am currently growing with is about:

33%  long fiber sphagnum

27 %  triple washed coconut husk chips

20%  #3 perlite

15%  Growstone, GS-2, for aeration

5%   charcoal chips

And for larger plants in larger pots I add about 5 to 10 % of Hydroton - baked clay pellets that are round and red.


Now, for the finer details:




The long fiber sphagnum has to be very good quality.  The one I use now is a widely available one on eBay called “Spagmoss”.  I soak it for an hour or two before using and then cut it into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces, slightly longer for large plants in larger pots.



I like the way roots attach to coconut husk chunks better than the bark I used to use.  I use 1/8 to 3/8 inch size pieces for plants in smaller pots, say to 4 inch pots.  Bigger pots than that I use 1/2 to 5/8 inch pieces.  It is very important to triple soak these overnight to get the excess salt out of them.  I have an electrical conductivity meter (DiST 3, Hana Instsruments) to measure the amount of salt in liquids.  My tap water (city) registers about 140.   When a put a bag of the husks into a 5 gallon bucket of that water within an hour the water tests out at over 1000.  The next morning I dump that water and refill the bucket with fresh water.  And again the third morning.  After that if I fill with water again it tests in the 150s to 180 range and is ready for use.



I agonize over whether I should rinse off the perlite before use to get rid of the fine dust – or is it actually good in the mix?   Now I generally pre-rinse only when I get near the bottom of the bag and there is a lot of the fines.



I like this in the mix for no apparent reason that I can think of other than it helps with drainage and therefore helps reduce root rot.



These I definitely rinse before using otherwise the mix has a “dirty look” from the charcoal dust.



I like using these because when I unpot a plant the roots will be hanging on to these.  It is recommended to rinse and soak these before use.




I make an effort to never let the pots dry out completely.  I water as soon as the top of the media gets dry.

My go-to fertilizer now is “Miracle Gro, water soluble tomato food, 18 -18 -21”.  It has additional micronutrients.   Once in a while I will switch over for a feeding or two to the Maxsea seaweed fertilizer (16-16-16) that Jay has championed here on the forum (also with micronutrients).    I fertilize only when the plants are in active growth and only when the growing media is wet.


There is nothing magical about the mix I use.  Our individual growing conditions and climates are so different that it has to mean that no one mix will work for everyone.  So you will need to experiment to see what works best for you.  I hope my remarks will help you. Good Growing!


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excellent 🤩

for mine a S.imberbis  ( but also all my rubiaceae) I use now tree fern root in plate.

I put my plant on the plate which is horizontal, with a little living sphagnum moss around it, so that it takes root well, then I hang it on the edge of my terra.
when the plate is dry I saturate it with rainwater

for fertilizer I use  NPK : 13-19-19   commonly and some times  25-5-5 (exceptionally)

FRANK how old is your plant ? you had it initially with flowers and drupe?

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