It is almost that time of year again! The too short, yet eagerly awaited time for the peonies to bloom!
It is a long held belief that peonies can't bloom without ants! It is no surprise people have thought this because this time of year you will see ants crawling all over peony blooms!
But this tale is just a myth! The reason ants flock to peony buds are because peonies secrete a substance called extrafloral nectaries. Essentially, this means that the buds are producing nectar, which is basically sugar, and the ants are drawn to it like...well... ants to sugar.
While these may seem like a really sweet thing for the peonies to do, they are not doing it just out of the goodness of their heart, they also benefit from the ants being there! While the ants are there feeding, they protect the forming flowers from insects that would feed on the plant itself. This is a perfect example of mutualism. Two organisms of different species benefiting one another.
Since peonies have a disappointingly short season, the ants have to constantly let other ants from their colony know to get it while the getting is good. Once an ant finds these beautiful nectar dispensers, they head back to their colony, leaving a trail of pheromones behind them that other ants can then follow to the buffet! Each ant leaves its own trail for its buddies!
Janet Douberly is the perfect example of mutualism at Downtown Greens.
This article was published in the April 2023 edition of Front Porch Magazine. Use the button below to read the full publication.