Ant-ferns are intriguing plants that have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with ants, whereby:
Lecanopteris spinosa was discovered by Clive Jermy - Head of the Fern Section at the Natural History Museum for many years - and his colleague Trevor Walker from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne during an expedition to Sulawesi in 1979. It is still known only from this locality.
The discovery of this species helped to resolve the differences of opinion as to whether to recognise 1 or 2 genera of Old World ant-ferns.
Two genera of ferns have a close association with ants - they are myrmecophytic. Both are epiphytes in the Polypodiaceae family:
In Lecanopteris spinosa the hollow ant-house rhizome grows to form a large spiny ball around the tree branch.
This species has characteristic rhizomes that become hollow as they age, providing an ideal home for ants. Find out more about the appearance of this hospitable plant.
Lecanopteris spinosa has been found in only 1 locality in Sulawesi in Indonesia. Discover where this plant and its relatives like to grow.
Find out more about the reproductive strategy of this plant.
Lecanopteris plants and ants can help each other, but are not completely dependant. Discover how they benefit one another.
Get reference material for Lecanopteris spinosa and ant – plant associations.
Freshly collected Lecanopteris spinosa plant.© A C Jermy
Fresh rhizome of Lecanopteris spinosa showing spines.© A C Jermy
Freshly collected plant of Lecanopteris spinosa.© A C Jermy
Lecanopteris spinosa in Sulawesi.© A C Jermy
Lecanopteris spinosa - rhizome of the holotype specimen in the Museum collection.© P Lund, Natural History Museum, London
Section through a fresh Lecanopteris spinosa rhizome showing hollow chambers with ants removing white pupae.© A C Jermy
Section through a fresh Lecanopteris spinosa rhizome showing hollow chambers.© A C Jermy
Holotype of Lecanopteris spinosa mounted on a herbarium sheet in the Museum collection.© Natural History Museum, London.
Curator of Pteridophytes, Department of Botany.
"Lecanopteris is a fascinating genus due to its association with ants that live in its rhizomes. This species was discovered in Sulawesi in November 1979 by Clive Jermy - Head of the Fern Section at the Museum for many years - and his colleague Trevor Walker. It is still known only from this 1 locality."
The process by which water and nutrients are absorbed and conveyed to the plant tissues and organs.
Part of a plant that has been modified to provide protection for insects, mites or fungi.
Plants that grow on another plant for support but are not parasitic.
Not obligatory - can complete its life cycle independently.
With a waxy blue-green sheen.
A structure that covers the sorus.
Descended from a single common ancestor.
A fern's midrib.
A fern's stem.
Group of sporangia.