Walk by a hanging basket of Codonanthe devosiana and you'll probably admire the unassuming yet sweet cascading plant in the African violet family. It certainly is pretty with its covering of delicate white or pink trumpet-like blooms. But there is an amazing story to this species of tropical epiphyte. In its natural habit, the Codonanthe genus has struck up a delightful relationship with another creature...
The dozen or more species of Codonanthe most often grow in association with nests of tree ants. For those of you who just shuddered at the thought, don't worry. Unless you live in a tree in the area where that particular ant species is native (Brazil, Guiana, Central America, West Indies), you're safe from inviting ants into your home with this rare houseplant.
In nature, some plants have evolved to attract ants, and for the Codonanthe that's a good thing! The short trumpet flowers on these creeping vines are strongly scented and there are "nectaries" under the leaves and axils of stems that produce a tasty sugar to attract ants. Once the flowers are done blooming, colorful orange berries (see photo below) form. Inside the orange berries are seeds that look enough like ant eggs for the ants to transport them back to their nests. Once inside the nests, the seeds take advantage of the safe habitat and germinate. The plants thrive in the rich organic matter and in return, their roots help build the structure of the ant nest. Truly a genius of a genus!
Care instructions for Codonanthe are similar to those for African violets:
Watering: Water regularly but let the top of the soil dry in between waterings. The plant can grow and survive with missed waterings now and again but will bloom and thrive best if you practice regularity. Because Codonanthe are epiphytes that grow in trees they absolutely do not like soggy roots, so make sure your pot isn't sitting in water! Due to their tropical nature, Codonanthe love humidity so keeping them near other plants (which let off moisture as they breathe) is a good solution in dry Colorado.
Light: Codonanthe need very bright light but no direct sun. Remember, they grow in the dappled light of the tree canopy rather than out in the full sun. Browning edges on leaves can be a sign of too much sun or not enough humidity.
Fertilizer: Since the plant is in your home and you are not an ant and do not live in a tree, as we remind you above, you are responsible for the care and feeding of your Codonanthe. Use a general houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer, prepared to the specifications on the label.