In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.
Common name: Ant plant, Baboon’s head, Dedalu Api Laut, Hempedal Itik, Kepala Beruk, Pedal Itik
Scientific name: Hydnophytum formicarum Jack
The ant plant, also commonly called Baboon’s head, is native to Southeast Asia and is considered rare and critically endangered in Singapore. It is a remarkable botanical wonder that has developed a unique and mutual relationship with ant colonies.
The Ant plant forms a tuber at its base, known as a caudex, that are inhabited by ants in the wild.
Typically the tuber grows to about 20cm wide (but can grow up to an impressive 55cm!) and contains hollow chambers and tunnels that are ideal spaces for ant nesting.
The plant provides shelter and nectar to ants. In return, the ants provide the plant with protection from herbivores and pests. This is known as a symbiotic relationship, when close associations are formed between two species.
The Ant plant is an epiphyte and grows on the surface of another plants. It is often found on trees in primary and secondary forests. The ant plant is best suited to a tropical climate and thrives in Singapore, where high humidity and abundant rainfall prevail. It derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water or nearby organic debris and stores them in its distinctively swollen stem.
Emerging from the stem, the ant plant produces long, slender, and flexible branches. These branches host short, broad, leather-like leaves and give rise to delicate white flowers.
The Ant plant serves as a perfect example of the intricate interdependence between flora and fauna in the region, underscoring the importance of each species and the roles that plant life plays in the environment.
If you come across a rare Ant plant in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.
Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!