An exotic tropical plant, the ant plant, as its name implies, is home to ants when it grows in its natural environment. In its original tropical climate, an ant plant can be found growing on the trunk of a host tree. The ant plant has a bulbous, tubular base, with hollow chambers that ants colonize. It is mutually beneficial: the ants get a safe home, the ant plant has the ants to attack pests and animals, and the ant plant also gains nutrients from ant debris. Generally ant plants are grown in the United States as houseplants or in greenhouses, but they can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 10 and higher.
Ant plants must be grown in a warm, humid environment. The temperature where you grow your ant plant must not drop below 60 degrees F, but can be as high as 85 to 90 degrees F. Place your ant plant where it will receive strong or bright light, but your ant plant should not be in direct sunlight for long periods. Lower light levels will produce elongated, unattractive stems and more leaves but thinner tubers or bulbs.
Your ant plant will thrive in moist soil, but if you over water it, allow it to stand in water or have it potted in too heavy soil that does not drain well, you risk your ant plant dying from root rot. The potting soil you grow your ant plant in should be well draining. An orchid potting soil mix with the addition of sphagnum moss will provide the needed drainage with the necessary moisture retention. Check the moisture level of the soil daily and add water if the soil appears to be slightly dry. Your ant plant can tolerate brief periods of dryness much better than growing in soil that remains too wet.
Feed your mature ant plant a diluted 20-20-20 fertilizer every two to three weeks during the summer. Feeding your ant plant a full strength fertilizer, or feeding more often will stimulate it to grow too rapidly and cause the tuber to grow out of shape.
Your ant plant will produce an abundance of berries, each berry holding two ant plant seeds. When the berries turn red or orange they are ripe and seeds can be harvested. Plant the ant plant seeds on coconut husks that are kept moist, and in a short time the seeds will sprout. Fresh seeds should be used, as older, dried seeds do not usually germinate. Do not fertilize your 'baby' ant plants, but wait until the tiny plants are over four to six months old.
If you have accidentally allowed your ant plant soil to dry out too much and your ant plant has wilted, do not despair. Simply water your ant plant as normal, and chances are your plant will recover. It is a good idea to mist your ant plant with water daily to increase humidity around the plant, and the misted water will absorb into the plant, helping it with its need for constant moisture.
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