Myrmecophytes are a heterogenous group of species that live in a close relationship with ants. They can shelter ants in their stems, trunks, leaves, leafstalk, etc. In return for shelter, ants guard the plants against herbivores. They also provide nutrients either via secretion or from stuff they bring into the plant. A substantial number of these plants can be found in habitats that are poor in nutrients. Thanks to ants, myrmecophytes gain a competitive advantage over other species. For ants, dry and sheltered dwellings are beneficial (these dwellings inside plants are called domatia). Some plants also feed their ants with various sugar or protein secretions. Myrmecophytes are almost exclusively tropical or subtropical and can be found on most continents (excluding Europe and the Antarctic). Most species are found in Southeast Asia and tropical America. Myrmecophytes include 681 species from more than 150 genera and 50 families. The most numerous are the madder (Rubiaceae) and Melastomataceae families.
Why Do We Have Them in Our Garden?
Myrmecophytes fascinate us not only by coexisting with ants, but also by their bizarre and attractive shapes. We have been developing our collection for about 10 years and it belongs to the best amongst world-class botanical gardens. We are also in contact with leading private growers. The collection is valuable both genetically and scientifically, since it contains a large number of plants collected in the wild at known locations. The collection does not occupy a large area and most species are not used in the Fata Morgana Greenhouse (except during exhibitions). In total, there are about 60 species in the collection. A satisfactory systematic classification of species is not yet available for the madder (Rubiaceae) family. Thus, a well-managed collection of plants with a known location of origin is excellent study material.
Our collection of myrmecophytes is designed as an overview. We focus especially on the madder (Rubiaceae) family, for which we are trying to acquire the widest possible range of species. From other groups, we always grow several sample species and we are not planning any significant development.
In 2016 we held a successful exhibition focused on myrmecophytes.