Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ant plants of Bako National Park

Myrmecodia_tuberosa_ant_plant_2

Myrmecodia tuberosa and Hydnophytum formicarum on a Somah tree.

 

Ant plants grow abundantly in Bako National Park. I came across at least 5 species from 4 different genera on past trips (I’ve been to Bako at least 3 times this year, twice in the past three weeks, both camping trips). They are Myrmecodia tuberosa (local name "periuk hantu"), Hydnophytum formicarum ("kepala beruk"), at least 2 Dischidia species, D. rafflesiana and D. nummularia and an ant fern, Lecanopteris sinuosa (formerly Phymatodes sinuosa).

 

Ant_Plants

Ant plants and pitcher plants on a small Somah tree.

 

Most are found growing on Ploiarium alternifolium (pokok Somah) trees which are commonly found in white-sand areas around Kuching such as Lundu and Matang and the open shrub-lands of Bako.

 

Myrmecodia_tuberosa_ant_plant_1

Periuk Hantu (Myrmecodia tuberosa)

 

I remember seeing Myrmecodia tuberosa in my elementary school Science text book as a kid. No botanic name was given with the picture, only the Malay name, “periuk hantu” which means “ghost pot”. We had some big fat plants growing on an acacia tree behind our house and they used to creep me out cause I kept imagining ghosts living in them! haha :)

 

ant_fern_lecanopteris_sinuosa_2

Ant fern (Lecanopteris sinuosa) with enlarged tuber-like rhizomes.

 

Ant plants have formed a clever relationship with ants that benefits both parties. The plants get nutrients as well as protection (try disturbing an ant plant, swarms of ants will come out!) while the ants get shelter and a home.

 

ant_fern_lecanopteris_sinuosa_1

Baby ant plants growing next to the tuber-like rhizome of an ant fern. The “dirt-tunnel” built around the ant-plants is the work of ants.

 

ant_plants_dischidia_and_hydnophytum

Dischidia rafflesiana and Hydnophytum formicarum growing together.

 

I do not know the reason for the high concentration in Bako. Perhaps because it’s a protected area and there are few people disturbing/killing the plants? I have M. tuberosa, D. nummularia and L. sinuosa plants growing naturally in my garden too but certainly not in such high numbers like in Bako.

 

Ant plants are actually quite fascinating. So the next time you visit Bako NP, keep an eye out for them. You might also find them in your own backyard! :)

3 comments:

Sarawakiana@2 said...

This is really fascinating!!

Nom said...

The reason ant-plants and carnivorous plants are so plentiful at Bako bake is primarily because the soils there are generally so poor. Ant-plants and indeed carnivorous plants are adapted to survive in nutrient deficient habitats in which most other plants would starve.
See Ant-plants: Arboreal Wonders of Nature.
http://www.australiansucculents.com/

sarawaklens said...

Nom, thank you for the information!

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