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Mangrove ant-house plant
Dischidia major

updated Oct 2016
Where seen? This odd plant with bulbous leaves is sometimes seen in our mangroves, growing on trees and shrubs. According to Hsuan Keng, it was common on trees all over Singapore especially near the sea. According to Corners, the Subfamily Asclepiadoideae has "exceedingly complicated flowers, more so than even that of orchids and the family is considered on of the most highly evolved among flowering plants". You wouldn't quite think that looking at this rather stringy plant.

Features: An epiphyte that grows on trees and shrubs. There are two kinds of leaves, arranged opposite one another. Small circular flat thick leaves (2-2.5cm) and larger hollow leaves (7-12cm long) that are oval. The large leaves are yellowish green on the outside and purple on the inside. These hollow leaves have an entrance at the base for ants and aerial roots. Ants actually take up residence inside the large hollow leaves. The ants get a safe place to stay, while the plant benefits from the minerals found in the ants' left-overs and wastes. Roots grow inside the large hollow leaf to absorb these nutrients.

Flowers are small (1cm) and sunbirds appear to be attracted to them. The fruit is bean-shaped (5cm) that split when ripe to release tiny seeds attached to silky hairs. The seeds are often dragged away by ants, which feed on fat particles produced by the plant. When the plant is injured, a white sap is produced.

There are other several other species of Dischia in Singapore.

Status and threats: Many of our Dischia species are listed as 'Nationally Extinct' or 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.

Chek Jawa, May 04

Roots grow nside the hollow leaf.
Chek Jawa, Sep 03

Small circular fat leaves.
Chek Jawa, May 04

Large hollow leaves.
Chek Jawa, May 04

Mandai, Mar 11

Fruit pods.
Mandai, Mar 11

Flower bud.
Mandai, Mar 11
Chek Jawa, Sep 09

Mangrove ant-house plants on Singapore shores

Photos of Mangrove ant-house plants for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map


  • Dischidia major on Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online: photos and fact sheet.
  • Dischidia major on the NParks Flora and Fauna website: photos and fact sheet.
  • Giesen, Wim and Stephan Wulffraat, Max Zieren and Liesbeth Scholten. 2006. Mangrove Guidebook for Southeast Asia (PDF online downloadable). RAP publication 2006/07 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok.


  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Corners, E. J. H., 1997. Wayside Trees of Malaya: in two volumes. Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
  • Tomlinson, P. B., 1986. The Botany of Mangroves Cambridge University Press. USA. 419 pp.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
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