Did you know potatoes are actually ferns?

Guest Andreas Eils

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Guest Andreas Eils



today I give you closer inspections on the anatomy of the ant fern Solanopteris brunei, also called "potato fern".

Solanopteris has (partly) a bad reputation of being difficult to grow. And at least I would second that it is challenging. And I am...I believe... :wink: infamous for my ability to kill hundreds if not thousands of plants due to my non-existent green thumb! :wink: HOWEVER Solanopteris brunei of all things has started to run riot under my care!!! How is that possible, lol!

This is the whole plant as of yesterday afternoon:


The black plastic basket has an edge length of 18 cm. I tend to let the soil become dry regularly. That´s the reason there are often many fronds with yellow edges aso. This ant fern rather dislikes being kept too wet. It can start rotting fastly if too wet!

I grow this plant since spring 2009 if I´m not wrong. It originates from Wistuba nursery. (And I have divided it two years ago!) Currently I count 14 breeding chambers (potatoes) for the ant species symbiotic to this fern. Most of them are covered by the bed of fronds. :wink:


A very nice group of four potatoes. The potatoes are first greenish with white hairs and fastly turn blackish with brown hairs when grown up.


from another angle


I love these dark and hairy balls! :wub:


I have pulled out these two potatoes a little to show you the entry to the interior for the ants. Unfortunately the hole into the ball is overgrown by lots of fine roots. The entry into the potatoes is on their underside.


Another one of the 14 potatoes. :) You can spot the small scales on the surface of the ball.


And a close up. :) The balls are mostly around two centimetres in diametre. Sometimes slightly larger and sometimes slightly smaller.

I have victimised one potato for some surgical examinations... :wink:


This is the underside with the hole into the interior. On this potato I have removed the fine roots.


You see how small the entry is. Must be quite tiny ants which use this hollow balls for their brood.


Well...not a first class hotel I guess... :lol:



Finally: A nice frond with spores. :o)

I hope I have helped to broaden your horizons. =O)) Unfortunately I cannot show you the symbiotic ants of this peculiar plant!


Edited by Andreas Eils
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Guest Andreas Eils

The show must go on, right?

I also love the Lecanopteris ant ferns.


Lecanopteris crustacea


Lecanopteris spinosa


Hmm...it doesn´t really live up to its name. Only a hand full of spines. :-S


Lecanopteris balgooyi

Last year in summer I had trouble with root mealy bugs. So I swang the chemical cosh and poured Dimethoat above the soil! The soil is mostly dried New Zealand sphagnum. As you can see the fern wasn´t amused! For half a year new fronds turned brown quickly while emerging. The ferns could have easily been killed as well by this drastic treatment. It´s only recently healthy fronds grow. Better never use this method again!



This is a lovely one with masses of spines: Lecanopteris holthumii.


One of my favourites: L. darnaedii



Not only because of spiny rhizomes but also because of the nice markings on the fronds! :smile:


Lecanopteris curtisii in my lowland tank.

Most of my Lecanopteris thrive in their own terrarium as they prefer highland conditions. Only L. curtisii and L. crustacea among my plants are tolerant of warmer conditions. And of course...


...Solanopteris brunei which thrones above all other plants... :laugh:Solanopteris brunei grows like mad in warm-humid conditions and it demands relatively high light levels according to my experience!

Some more views into my lowland tank:


A nicely coloured Nepenthes x hookeriana pitcher in the foreground. It´s something like a stadium between lower and intermediate pitcher.


Nepenthes neoguineensis with three intermediate *?* pitchers and two N. ampullaria - one pure green form of Tayeve and the speckled is a seed grown form from the Cyclops Mountains.



If someone has acquired a taste for ant ferns I have spares (rhizome cuttings) after Easter. Provided the weather will be warmer to send the cuttings. I´ll offer them in the sales and wants section. I guess it´s only L. holthumii and Solanopteris brunei I can offer this year. The Darnaedii is still too small, the Balgooyi...well...not fully recovered and a cutting of L. spinosa is already promised to another antfern nerd.

Thank you.


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Nice pictures, thanks for posting. Potato ferns are interesting indeed. I'm currently reading A Natural History of Ferns (highly recommended), and there's a short chapter about Solanopteris. To mention a few interesting things: they grow high up in the rain forest canopy, and the ants inhabiting the tubers (actually modified stems) attack anyone unlucky enough to poke the plants. Organic matter accumulates inside a tuber until there's no more room for ants, at which point the ants find a new tuber, and the walls of the old tuber degrade so it becomes permeable to water. Roots covering the walls of the tuber can then absorb water and nutrients from the now spongy tuber. The spongy old tubers can be an important source of water in the harsh conditions in the forest canopy.

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Guest Andreas Eils

Hi John, thanks for bringing more light into the mystery of potato ferns. I knew they grow epiphytically, also that the ants protect and defend the fern (like the inhabitants of Lecanopteris do, too). But that´s really interesting to know that old tubers act like a sponge to help watering the fern. Now I don´t have to wonder anymore why there are roots growing from the tubers.

I have tried several times to settle S. brunei layers on bark and on xaxim (including a layer of green moss) but always failed. If you mist them too often they just rot, else they desiccate. :( Growing them on (dead) long fibred sphagnum is the only method that works for me. Humidity is rarely below 70% in my tank. And I have a minimum temperature of 20°C in the night all year.

There are some more Solanopteris species - coming from the mossy, montane forests in South America (Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador) - some of them look really exciting. Unfortunately they are hard to obtain! :(

I bet the book about ferns you recommended is worth reading. Hummm....another one for my wish list???? That list is almost endless! LOL

Best regards


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Very well grown plants!

Did you know, that sundews are actually ferns too?

Adventitious root system - ferns? Yes. Sundews? Yes.

Circinate vernation - ferns? Yes. Sundews? Yes (at least in some).

Gemmae reproduction - ferns? Yes, in some species. Sundews? Yes, in some species.

The presence/absence of flowers is an outlier value and can be omitted :biggrin:



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Guest Andreas Eils

Hehehehe....very nice comparison, Adam. :D So, what we finally need is a fern that produces glue drops to catch prey. :woot: We´ll have a Drosera fern then. How wonderful would that be!

Ah, guys, do you know I seem to be always walking on a thin line where my success can rapidly turn into a catastrophy? :( Have to be permanently at red alert. ;-)

Thank you for your kind comments.


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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Andreas Eils

As they are hollow inside they don´t have many nutrients anyway, Dave! :laugh2: Sticking to usual potatoes is most likely healthier! :wink:

But the Solanopteris tubers do look tasty somehow, don´t they? :ermm:

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