Saturday, January 12, 2019

My Year of Orchids: Ants

Have you ever noticed the way there are ants running around all over the garden? They are everywhere. Sometimes I dig something up or water a plant and there are ants teeming all over the place carrying eggs. I think it’s a sign of garden health. There is plenty of organic matter around here that they can use and plenty of soil for them to dig around in.

So you’re probably familiar with the orchid Myrmecophila. It’s named for its symbiotic relationship with ants. I got one from Kathy and it spent months standing still on top of the old snag where I placed it. When I started out in July there was plenty of light out there. But I noticed that soon the light changed dramatically into shadow. Myrmecophila needs plenty of light so I got brave and moved it (they say it hates to have its roots disturbed but the poor thing hadn’t grown at all). It probably helped as well that I took it off its “bed“ of Spanish moss, another one of my mistakes trying to supplement what I thought would be the moisture needs of the almost nonexistent roots.

Myrmecophila was placed in a crook of our very sunny Madagascar palm. It didn’t look much happier even though I did see the odd ant running up or down the trunk of the tree. But at the base of the tree there’s gravel, which can get plenty hot. It’s not the nicest place for ants, especially when they have so many other yummy places they can do their work.

The ants are definitely doing something for all of my outdoor orchids, not just Myrmecophila. They transfer nutrients, they bring resources of all sorts, and for all I know they can be carrying beneficial microbes to the plants. This goes for my bromeliads and airplants too. And my huge staghorn fern. When you’re off the ground it helps to have these busy little helpers. I strongly encourage them.

But to get back to my Myrmecophila. It was pretty much standing still on the Madagascar palm even though it was getting plenty of sun and several mistings a day. You might laugh at me when I tell you I think it needed company. We were at a huge orchid tent sale down in Sarasota and I picked up another dozen or so plants, mostly hybrids. I placed a hybrid “Myrmecophila-Schomburgkia” (I thought someone said they were the same genus!) next to my baby plant. The next thing you know it went on that rampage I had promised Kathy a couple of months before. First there was a little nub of growth Which grew apace and before I knew it there were a dozen rootlets coming off the base of that new pseudobulb.

I don’t know if it was the company that I put there, the slightly cooler weather, or the fact that I started watering, not spraying that Madagascar palm, whose leaves had almost all fallen off and which looked pretty punk. But I am happy to report a thriving plant, actually several thriving plants, the new hybrid and that Madagascar palm included. And just like in the rest of the garden there are ants everywhere.

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