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Fascicularia bicolour roots

  • Fascicularia bicolour roots

I've had a fascicularia for a few years, no flowers yet, and always place it outdoors in the summer. This year the pot has been heavily infested with ants and flying ants. I've removed the soil and dunked the plant in water before repotting but found that it had very shallow roots. Does anyone know whether this is normal or could the ants have eaten or destroyed the root ball to this extent? I know bromeliads can be shallow rooted but was surprised such a large plant had so little root system.

Comments (8)

  1. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    I have a lot of these, Linda, and yes, they tend to have not much in the way of roots, for such a big, sturdy plant. Having said that, do you have a photo of the root ball? I'll turn one of mine out of its pot when I get back from work for comparison!

  2. Grower


    Thanks for your feedback Rachel, helpful as always!
    I've taken a photo of the roots and size of the plant. I suspect they have lost roots but am hoping it will survive the infestation. I thought ants only disturbed soil but think some may have have been munching the roots?

    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
  3. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Oooer, that's not so good, Linda: you might be right about the ants damaging the roots. Here's some photos of mine: firstly a group of the ones I have for sale, not as big as yours. Then a de-potted 9cm pot, and then a de-potted larger 1litre pot, both with really good roots. (Actually, looks like it's time they were sold and planted out somewhere!!) Finally, a "pup" from April of this year, you can see that the roots are only a couple of inches long, way out of proportion to the top growth, hence my comment about them not having much in the way of roots.

    But I would expect one of the size of yours, to have a lot more in the way of roots.

    So, yes, I'm rather afraid that it does look as though something has damaged the roots. I don't know if ants eat the roots as such, I thought that the damage was done more by them making tunnels, thus letting air get to the roots, and the roots then die. Were there any vine weevil larvae in the soil? Fat white grubs? Either way, shaking off the soil and washing the roots clear of all soil was exactly the right thing to do.

    You might like to quickly read this blog article of mine concerning plants in pots, which includes a way to ant-proof your containers.

    And in the meantime, these Fascicularia seem to be extremely resilient plants, so just pot it on again and who knows, this year it might be hot enough for it to flower? (looks out of window at the drizzle... hmm...)

    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
    • Fascicularia bicolour roots
  4. Grower


    No grubs were present Rachel. Though the plants had only been outside for a few weeks I've learned not to place the pots near soil again! The ants were never ending, thought I'd got rid of them then found another clump, 3 at least, so I don't know if that was 3 nests or 1 large one.
    Thanks for your blog link - I'll certainly try your horticultural fleece tip and will redo the repotting I've already done, hopefully save the aggro next year.
    I do have another smaller plant as back up but will keep an eye on the large one and if it deteriorates could always try to recover bits to split off and pot up separately.
    Many thanks Rachel.

  5. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Oh, definitely split off the "pups", Linda - they cluster around the base of the original plant, and they are a very easy way to not only get more plants to sell, but to clear up the parent plant, making it look much cleaner and neater, without having to trim it.

    Glad to hear there were no grubs present! Must just have been those pesky ants... you could also try a light dusting of ant powder around the base of the pot, once it's safely re-potted, to discourage them from returning....

  6. Grower

    Andy J

    Maybe the ants are innocent. I'm not sure whether it will be very helpful, but this recent experience might shed some light on the mystery of the 'missing' roots.

    Last month I needed to move a Fascicularia which was planted out 15 years ago. It had grown into a clump over a metre in diameter, with in excess of 120 rosettes, so I was anticipating a serious struggle to dig it out. However, I was amazed to find only a small mass of thin fibrous roots (the size of a large potato) immediately under the centre of the clump. The bases of all of the rosettes radiated out from the top of this mass, approximately half of which was above soil level, and half in the soil. Contrary to expectation, there was no sign of any fleshy tap roots beneath the plant, only a sparse felt of thin fibrous roots in the top 3-4 cm of soil.

    The whole clump broke cleanly away from the soil surface with only the small mass of fibrous root attached, leaving me scratching my head about how to re-establish something that apparently had no plantable roots. I tried splitting off the outermost rosettes, but this proved practically impossible because the centre of the clump was so incredibly dense. As a last resort, I got out a bow saw and quartered the clump.

    Now here's the thing, the core of the clump consisted of a football-sized mass of rosette bases embedded in a very dense matrix of fine fibrous roots (and all above the soil remember). It was almost woody - much harder to saw through than Agapanthus, for example.

    This is just speculation, but I reckon that as the clump had so little root at ground level, the fibrous root binding together the core of the clump must have been supplying much of the plant's moisture and nutrient requirements. Perhaps as Fascicularia bulks up it relies increasingly less upon root in the ground, and more upon root above it. If that's the case it might explain why Linda's older plant has less visible root than Rachel's youngsters.

    BTW, planted out the 'quarters' three weeks ago, and so far so good...... no sign of die-off.


  7. Grower


    How interesting Andy; thanks for sharing. I hope your quartered plant flourishes well. Mine is showing no signs of distress but I'm keeping a close eye on it.
    Thanks for your input.

  8. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    How very interesting: I've been quite intrigued that the ones I have potted on - which were pups of the one I was originally given - have developed good roots, as you can see in my photos, yet the original and all those I have ever seen planted out in gardens have very little in the way of roots.

    Being a succulent, they certainly don't need roots in the traditional way: and they can live for a long time with no watering at all. (I sometimes wonder how I would know if any of mine actually died!!) so perhaps, as Andy suggests, they are in effect rooting inside themselves: it's quite clear than when it rains, water runs down the inside of the leaves to the centre, so it makes sense that the plant would use that water for living, as it were, and would only need a few roots to stabilise it.

    And as a general comment, ant are NEVER innocent!

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