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Squamellaria imberbis in cultivation


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In early November of 2014 I received a small seedling of Squamellaria imberbis from Vanua Levu, Fiji.   It had no true leaves yet, only the two cotyledons.  I failed to take a photo of it until mid-December of 2014 by which time it had several true leaves and only one cotyledon was still attached. 

Squam wil 2014 12 13 2.jpg

From that time on it seemed to grow more quickly than any other Rubiaceous ant-plant that I have ever raised.  This is what it looked like in August of 2015 growing upright in a three inch pot.  At this point I wanted to switch it to growing sideways, more like they grow in habitat.  So I mounted it thru a tree fern slab attached by screws to the open end of an 8 inch basket that I filled with an epiphyte growing mix and hung sideways on a wall.




A year later, August of 2016, it was firmly attached in the basket and had grown considerably.  Notice in this photo the rather limited number of golden hairs/projections on the caudex.  This is when it started to make flowers and continued with those for about 4 months. 



The caudex made significant strides during that flowering period and this is what it looks like now, in May of 2017 – larger in size and with many more of the golden hairs/projections.  I am waiting anxiously for it to take on the black, rugby ball look and shape! 

(Sorry, I could not get this image to rotate 90 degrees clockwise)



As to the flowers: a total of about 30 opened during that late 2016 flowering period.  For about the first 10 flowers I could find no pollen in the flowers but an ovary with a healthy looking stigma was present in all the flowers.  After that I started finding pollen – maybe mostly because I started looking at the right time of day - Jay had put me on to looking about 10 am for pollen.    There were lots of ants in the flowers.  The ants in my collection are a small (2 mm long) species of Cardiocondyle ants, not the Philidris ants that occupy the plants on Fiji.

No fruits were forming.  The Cardiocondyle ants were apparently not getting the job done.   Then one day I had two flowers open at the same time (this was the only time that happened) so I grabbed a camel hair brush and moved pollen between the two flowers.   This was successful and two fruits started to form.


As the plant was flowering I tried using the biological key in the Chromicki Squamellaria article to verify the identification of the plant - but with no success.  The problem was at the #7 couplet where I was unable to convince myself that I was seeing the squamella inside the petal tube.  The squamella are four small scales that are in a ring near the bottom of the petal tube.

At about the same time I took a weekend workshop on DNA sequencing as used in identifying organisms and establishing taxonomic relationships.  So I took a leaf of this Squamellaria plant into the workshop and they used it in their demonstrations.  They isolated, multiplied and prepared the DNA for sequencing and a few weeks later sent me the results after they compared it with DNA sequences in the online Genebank.

It was a match for the DNA sequence of Squamellaria imberbis in Chromicki’s paper.  If we could only identify all of our plants this way!!!!! 

For it to be S. imberbis the squamella have to be present.  So I went back to my flower photos and found two squamella in this photo.  Look carefully at the tips of the arrows.  The spuamella are very thin and light in color.

S imberbis squamella.jpg


As to the fruits.  A few weeks after I discovered the fruits it was obvious they were not the same shape as the fruit photos Andreas has posted here on the forum.  When the fruits ripened (a dirty orange color) the reason for the misshappened fruit was clear – my fruits had only one seed each in them instead of the expected 4.  I need to work on my pollen brushing techniques!  Happily both of the seeds have germinated.  So Squamellaria imberbis plants are self-fertile.


From sometime in January to mid-April, 2017 the plant took a breather and did not do much.  In April new flower buds started to form slowly and in greater numbers than the first year of flowering.   Last week I had two flowers open the same day and moved pollen between them – hoping this time to get full four-seeded fruits.  I had another pair open today and did hand pollination again.  Too early to tell if either of these pollination attempts have succeeded.

This has been a very interesting and fast growing species.



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Great job with this Frank! Growers of hydnophytines worldwide should rejoice in the fact that we have seen the number of species in cultivation multiply by a factor of eight or 10 over the past several years and that four of the five genera now have self-sustaining populations in cultivation.


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