Every now and then, when I am doing research on a plant, I will discover that the plant has an unusual quality. The plants with this unusual quality are said to be myrmecochorous. They use a method of seed dispersal that is facilitated by ants.
The seeds of myrmecochorous plants have fleshy appendages called elaiosomes which are packed with nutrients, and are tempting to ants. The picture above is of a seed pod of a Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, filled with seeds with elaiosomes.
Ants out hunting for food will stumble upon these seeds, gather them, and return to their colony to feed the elaiosomes to hungry larvae.
Once the elaiosomes are consumed, the ants have no further use for the seeds, and throw them into their colony’s “trash room.”
The environment in the “trash room” is a near perfect setting to start seeds – underground, and full of nourishment essential for plant growth.
A new crop of plants, thanks to ant farmers.
The plants included in this blog are but a few of the myrmecochorous plants of my area, the mountains of central Virginia, and world wide there are more than 3,000 species.