Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mike - More than Meets the Eye

Meet Myrmecodia tuberosa, or Mike for short. He is a vegetable, a hermaphrodite, and one ugly bastard. Despite his visual shortcomings he is my favorite plant - I germinated his seed in a makeshift terrarium and watched him grow into something grotesque but all the while knowing what a special organism he is. After my boyfriend, two domestic rats and maybe my sweet vintage milk glass pedestal bowl, I would definitely grab him if our house was on fire, the little frilly flowered plants be damned. So what's so great about Mike? It's all on the inside.

 He's got...personality

You see Mike is an ant-plant or Myrmecophyte: a plant that has a mutually beneficial relationship with one or several species of ants. In this case Mikes large misshapen base is full of hollow galleries and even a state-of-the-art compostable lavatory designed for ant habitation. In exchange the ants produce lots of poopies and promise to go postal on any bug, animal or stray dust particle that dares to alight on the plant.

Fig. 453 from E. Gilg and K. Schumann, "Das Pflanzenreich. Hausschatz des Wissens.", ca. 1900

Before you freak out Mike is not in fact carrying a colony of ants and perhaps that was not the best way to endear you to him so how about I take out some pictures and turn to some happy thoughts?

 Mike and siblings as babies - aren't they cute?

His first ant door awwww!
Starting to hit that awkward phase

puberty - Mike's first flower
yes, that tiny white thingie is a flower bud

Mike's first pregnancy
that is a fruit, not a nipple

Where it all began. One or more of these is/are Mike's parent(s) at an certain US University greenhouse which shall remain nameless (less I be charged with child abduction) where Mike, uh, jumped in my pocket along with some of his siblings:

From the last pics you might surmise that there is something slightly odd about how Mike's species grow. Another great reason why he's *awesome* is that he's an epiphyte: a plant that grows on (larger) plants usually for the purposes of getting more sunlight, which is especially important in tropical forest where trees can grow to huge proportions and very little light reaches the bottom. Although they can sometimes cause damage the epiphytes are not parasites and don't derive nutrients from their hosts.

Due to the infrequent rainfall in the apartment Mike is happy growing in premium New Zealand sphagnum moss in a hanging planter. Looking out from the third floor patio door windows is the best I could do to simulate a Southeast Asian forest canopy. Fortunately Mike doesn't have a central nervous system so it's all the same to him ( whatever).

Funny how unveiling the mysteries of how something works can make it so much more precious than it was before. Even though Mike has some pretty high class frou-frou relatives like the gardenia and coffee plant, I still think he's the bestest ever!

I hope to introduce you to more quasi ugly but interesting plants living with me - and maybe some pretty one if we get bored.


  1. Absolutely awesome! made my day - thanks!

  2. Yay Mike made some new friends! Not bad for a vegetable! Maybe I should make him a Facebook page, or a personal ad "ant-plant seeks large aggressive ant colony for mutually beneficial arrangements"

  3. what a cool little plant! I want a mike of my own :)

  4. I think Mike has a lot of friends now. :)