Friday, June 24, 2011

Dipteris conjugata

This horticulturally interesting fern is found in many places in East Asia, mostly in lower montane areas but has also been recorded in coastal areas in the lowlands, including Singapore. Botanists believe it is a very primitive fern - maybe even a living fossil, so one can imagine a vegetarian dinosaur munching on it during the Mesosiac period.

I found stands of this plant growing on open slopes in Fraser's Hill. These plants need open space with much light in order to thrive. Their demise in some parts of Singapore had been attibuted to crowding out by exotic weeds.
The palm-shaped fronds are large - about 50cm across ....

....and the venations give it a very interesting texture but so far I have not seen it in the horticulture trade. Is there anyone out there growing this ?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bulbophyllum membranaceum

A tiny, widespread but easily overlooked orchid that is still found in the shrinking primary forest of Singapore.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ROcky ROad

It's a twisting, twirling rocky road to the top....
but lying down is hardly an alternative.

Many members of the Legume family from subfamily CAESALPINIACEAE are interesting lianas, sometimes with weird textured surfaces, like my previous entry here. During an ascent to Bukit Timah Hill, a particular Caesalpinia sumatrana captured my attention with its curiously knobby vine.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Myrmecodia tuberosa

Out of the 600 genera from the Coffee family (Rubiaceae), there are more than 20 that are known to be Myrmecophytic - which means living in close association with ants. Typically the ants provide nutrients and protection in exchange for the abode. Some of the tuberous epiphytic myrmecophytes, pictured above from Huxley and Jebb's paper, are actually rather interesting horticutural subjects eg Anthorrhiza, Hydnophytum, Myrmecodia, Myrmephytum and Squamellaria. Other genera are less well known, like Myrmeconauclea, Nauclea and Milletia which are large shrubs, trees or vines.

Myrmecodia tuberosa is widely distributed throughout SE Asia and N. Australia. Unlike its close relative Hydnophytum, it is armed with spines which concentrate at its caudex. However, its most effective mode of protection is its tenant - the ants. Mind you these are certainly not the docile critters we are familiar with - they earn their keep ! It has been reported by Maschwitz et al that ants from genus Cladomyrma would linger more than an hour on the body of an unfortunate botanist to inflict painful bites that resulted in red itchy dots for days. Its means of protection is so effective that the even pollinators are deterred - its small tubular white flowers being self pollinating. The berries may be dispersed by the ants themselves but their bright orange colour also attract birds like flower peckers which can take them in mid flight.

Throughout its range, both Myrmecodia tuberosa and Hydnophytum formicarum are consumed by local communities for medical purposes. The water boiled with the whole plant is taken as tonic for liver, heart, digestive system as well as wide range of ailments like cancer, hepatitis and rheumatism. A person I acquainted with once visited New Guinea and brought back a few of these wondrous plants which I had no doubt to be a more exotic species. When I requested to purchase one from him, he was unyielding, claiming that it was needed to treat some undisclosed ailments.

I do not encounter this plant frequently in Peninsula Malaysia but in Sarawak, in the mangroves of Bako, kerangas of various regions and even trees beside a small stream, they occur in very large but concentrated numbers, usually with other ant-loving epiphytes.

A closer look at the entrances to ant chambers within the caudex. This particular form does not have the leaf shield called clypeoli.

Growing with a Pachycentria constricta, another myrmecophyte from Melastoma family, on the same branch.

Hanging over a small brown stream at a depleting forest.

This plant is best grown from seeds as transplanted adults plucked from the trees tend to fare poorly. It should be grown like a succulent and as you can see from the habitat photos, they do grow under the full scorching sun although partial shade would be better for smaller specimens. I found that they tended to succumb to rot more easily than Hydnophytum formicarum. A regular feeding of foliar fertiliser will ensure rapid progress and fruit formation.


Huxley, C.R. & M.H.P. Jebb. 1991a. Blumea 36: 1- 20.

U. Maschwitz et al Malayan Nature Journal 1989 43: 106-115

A.F.S.L. Lok et al, Nature In Singapore 2009 2: 231–236

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A flat and maroon ginger

This palm-sized peacock ginger originated from Thailand - I have no idea what it could be. A website listed this as Kaempferia purpurata but I do not think it is a valid name. K. purpurea perhaps ?

Like most Kaempferias, it is seasonal and the 2 large palm-size leaves appear only for a few months of the year, during which the single white flower will protrude between them. The flower lasts only 1 day but will be replaced by new ones while in season. The bloom reminds me of K. rotunda but the leaves are totally different.

Please drop me a line if you have any idea what is the ID ; alternatively any literature of Kaempferia purpurea should help also.

Related Posts with Thumbnails