Thursday, June 5, 2014

Breaking up is hard to do

Impatiens niamniamensis was my favorite houseplant.  It was loaded with striking flowers, grew fast and generally made my room feel more tropical.  I found that I am not the only one to have been seduced by this Central African native.  You can see some great photos and read somebody else obsess over the "Congo Cocatoo" at Stupid Garden Plants.

Alas, it was a love that circumstance would not allow.  The plant had just started to put out a ridiculous number of new flowers when I noticed a torrent of ants streaming to and from its pot.  It seemed the ants and I could both agree that the Impatiens niamniamensis blooms were extremely enchanting. Convoys of the little critters went in and out of the flower openings. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about so I bit open one of the flowers for a taste. Inside there was a fair amount of sweet nectar.  I found it similar to sucking on a Phlomis fruticosa bloom.  There also seemed to be a fair amount of extrafloral nectaries.  My camera (smart phone) can't take good macro photos, but Stupid Garden Plants has a detailed photo of these extrafloral nectaries  It's quite probable that the ants were attracted by both the flowers and these points of nectar on the stem of the plant. In its native habitat Impatiens niamniamensis might even use its extrafloral nectaries to attract ants which would then protect the plant from herbivory.  This seems to be the case with other impatiens as this study from 1990 explains: Amino Acid Concentrations in Extrafloral Nectar of Impatiens Sultani Increase after Simulated Herbivory.  In any case, the ants went nuts for this thing.

 I battled wave after wave of invading ants, I moved the plant to a different room, I filled a saucer with water to act as a moat, but still the ants kept coming with frenzied passion.  What seemed like the beginning of a long happy plant relationship had turned into a messy love triangle between me, the Congo Cockatoo and thousands of ants.  Not knowing how else to proceed, I banished my Impatiens niamniamensis from my indoor plant collection.

Within one day of kicking the plant out of the house things got even worse.  It had always liked the strongest light I gave it indoors so I thought maybe now it would finally be able to get the sunlight it had always wanted.  So I placed the Impatiens in a spot with about 2 hours direct sunlight.  Talk about getting zapped!  I came back from work and the leaves were scorched.  If your curious to see what happens to Impatiens niamniamensis in direct light take a look:

The white portions of the leaf may look like the sun reflecting off a glossy surface, but in fact this is just necrosis of the tissue.
Currently this sad Parrot Impatiens sits in dark corner of the yard.  In my room, the random stray ants left over from the heady days when nectar flowed freely now meander about aimlessly, devoid of passion.  Having I. niamnamensis in my room was beautiful while it lasted.  Perhaps when the Hoya blooms I'll be seduced all over again.