dischidia plants are one of the coolest plants out there. they are epiphytes native to tropical areas of southeast asia and closely related to hoyas. they are ant gardens, which are ant/plant mutualisms whereby ants farm epiphytes and in return the plants provide shelter and food. ants gather seeds to feed on and then abandon the seeds nearby (ule, 1901, 1902, 1906). sometimes ants will place the seeds in sites far above the ground, such as on trees (davidson, 1988). please have a look at #jmdischidia for progress photos of my little dischidia fam.

my dischidia fam ~ from left to right: d. ruscifolia, d. diphylla, d. ovata, d. nummularia

history

ant gardens exist in the neotropics & australasia. chomicki and colleagues (2017) conducted phylogenetic analyses to understand their evolution in australasia, focusing on philidris ants and ant gardens. they found that diaspore (seed or spore) dispersal by ants evolved at least 13 times during the last six to seven million years – five times in the late miocene and pliocene in australasia and seven times during the pliocene in southeast asia after the ants had arrived there. subsequent dispersal occurred between these two areas. in addition, a uniquely specialized ant garden system evolved in fiji. the researchers (2017) conclude that ants are responsible for the recurrence of diverse plants, which were probably pre-adapted, resulting in specialized species.

did you know?

ants play a key role in distributing dischidia seeds (docters van leeuwen-reijnvaan & docters van leeuwen, 1911). in their natural habitat, seedlings are initially spread by the wind & once they’ve hit a tree ants come & carry the seeds to where they will thrive. as such, dischidia plants end up growing all over trees. such a beautiful ecosystem, which made me think of how important it is for us to be compassionate towards others. the spaces we occupy are also ecosystems requiring care & support 💗

in addition to being ant gardens, dischidia plants, specifically dischidia imbricata, have been found to have various medicinal properties and have been used by locals for anti-cancer treatments and cardiovascular conditions in the kabanjahe traditional market in north sumatra, indonesia (Silalahi et al., 2015).

furthermore, a recent study conducted by krumsri and colleagues (2019) found that leaf extracts of dischidia imbricata can be used as an allelopathic compound as a natural strategy for weed control. the results showed that the extracts inhibited the growth of all six seedlings tested in the study. allelopathy is a natural phenomenon whereby plants release secondary metabolites aka allelochemicals into the environment in various ways, such as leaching from plant parts & the decomposition of plant residues (koochecki et al., 2013; rice, 1984; krumsri et al., 2019). recently, some plants which have been found to hold allelopathic properties have been applied as a natural herbicide in crop production.

care tips

  • bright, indirect light from an east-facing window 
  • water when the potting medium is dry & leaves are slightly wrinkly
  • all of mine are potted in coco coir or bark, similar to the conditions in their natural habitat
  • propagate via three to four inch stem cuttings

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