Ants on peony buds

Peony flowers are blooming and providing spectacular color displays. You may be shocked to find ants crawling all over them, but ants on the plants is a good thing. Nature designed the two to find each other.

Michele Warmund is a professor of plant science and technology at the University of Missouri. She says ants are drawn to peonies because of their nectar, which is a food source for the ants. It’s secreted by tiny glands on the green sepals that cover the flower buds before they open.

"When a scout ant finds the nectar on a peony flower, it emits a pheromone, or an odor trail, on the way back to its nest. At the nest, the scout alerts other ants of this food source and then the recruited ants follow this odor trail back to the nectar on the peony flowers," says Warmund. 

She says it’s a myth that peonies require ants to bloom, and the ants don’t provide pollination. However, they do have a mutualistic relationship. The peonies provide food for the ants and in return, the ants protect the blossoms from other insects that feed on the flowers.

The ants are there only temporarily and don’t do any harm to the peonies. But if you want to cut the flowers and bring them in the house, you probably don’t want the ants hitching a ride.

"After you cut them you can hold them upside down by the stems just below the flower bud and give them a good shake outside," she says. "Or you can also gently rinse them with water to rid them of the ants."

Here’s something to wow your friends with – peonies are in a group of plants known as “myrmecophytes” (MEER’-ma-co-FITES’) which means “ant plant”.

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