Peonies and Ants

Ant on a peony bud

So what’s the deal with peonies and ants? They are almost always found together–but why?

On the theory that nature doesn’t make mistakes, or there are no accidents in nature, let’s examine this a little more closely.

Clearly the ants derive something from the peonies, right? If you look closely, you’ll see little drips of what look like water near where the ants are–if it’s still even there. The ants are after the peonies’ nectar. (It doesn’t particularly show in this photo too well)

So now we have sorted our what’s in it for the ants. Is there anything in it for the peonies? Perhaps. As in other relationships, the ants may protect the peonies from other insects that may want to damage their buds.

Here is an interesting article from the University of Missouri that indicates that the ants may indeed be protecting the peonies from other insects and certainly that the use of insecticides are unnecessary.

I have found a simple way to avoid bringing ants in when I cut peonies. I cut them in the morning, shake them gently and then leave then outside in a shaded place until evening. That generally gives the ants time to leave the flowers of their own accord.

And, of course, cutting the flowers once they are slightly more open–I usually do so even just slightly past the “marshmallow” stage recommended in the UM article–also helps because most of the nectar has then gone from the flowers. Once the nectar has gone, so have the ants, generally.

By using these simply management practices, both you and the ants can enjoy the flowers–the ants outside the house and you and the flowers (minus the ants) inside the house!

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