Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ant Tree

I am lucky to stumble on this tree in bloom because it is rare. This is a Triplaris sp., meaning its species name in indeterminate. Looking at the flower, this may be a T. cumingiana. Triplaria trees, aka the Long John tree; or the Mulato tree; or the ant tree; or Vara de Maria... belong to the family of Polygonaceae. It is nicknamed Long John because of its very slender shape. The branches are hollowed out and inhabited by the Pseudomyrmex sp. ants in a close symbiotic relationship. In fact, these ants are fiercely territorial and have been reported to attack people who come close to the trees. In some regions of Brazil, there are numerous reports of intensely painful stings by these ants that result in local inflammation.

The red flowers you see in the photo are female flowers in big compound clusters. The male flowers are small and white. After proper pollination, the seeds are hairy with three-blade helicopter-like wings that can be carried by wind miles away.
Long John

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