In the Garden: Peonies and Ants

It’s Spring here in North Carolina! One of my favorite plants, the peony, is coming into bloom. (You do remember that my favorite plant is like my favorite child, right? It’s always the one that’s standing right in front of me at the time I’m asked  🙂)  All peonies are beautiful regardless of species or cultivar; single or double flower; any color: pastel pink, vibrant scarlet, whitest white, or soft yellow! I love them all, even the ones some Southern gardeners I know deem “god-awful gaudy.” But another thing that I like about peonies is watching tiny ants scamper all over the flower bud. I have counted as many as seventeen ants on a single bud at one time! Why the attraction of ants to peonies? I wondered that myself.

There’s old plant lore that is still used to explain this phenomenon. It tells of a symbiotic relationship between peonies and ants: The ants are foraging for delicious and nutritious nectar from the surface of the bud. AND the peonies need ants to help open up the bud, especially if the flower is a super ruffly double form. True or False? Both! It is true that ants are attracted to the nectar produced from the bud’s extrafloral nectaries. It is false that ants are required for the buds to properly open. Peonies will open just fine from their own innate peony intelligence.

Regardless, all things are connected. Just because the peony doesn’t require the ants to properly open its blossoms, maybe they need them for another reason that we humans don’t know about (pest control of smaller peony pests, for one). We tend to see anthropocentrically, thinking we know everything there is to know about nature. But, that knowledge sometimes turns out to be merely how nature relates to us and “our” world. The more curious types around us tend to do this a little more than the non-curious. And that’s our innate nature–to look for answers to all the questions (I stand guilty as charged.) 


Enough of the philosophical tangent. Back to gardens.
Please don’t spray your peonies with insecticide, the ants are not harming the plant. And don’t worry that the buds won’t open if little ant soldiers don’t do all the work.

Sit back, let nature takes its course, and enjoy your garden–ants and all. For a moment, allow yourself to be a small part of this grand network of living beings. Without overthinking it.

Video and photos of peonies and ants in my North Carolina garden.

12 thoughts on “In the Garden: Peonies and Ants

  1. I had peonies when I lived in the Midwest and used to love watching the ants at work. I always believed the ants were required for opening the buds. I did learn the hard way not to place an improperly deanted bouquet on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheryl how lovely that you were preparing a post about your budding peonies around the same time my neighbours and I were clearing away our finished ones, getting the shared street side garden bed ready for winter and discussing how much we looked forward to their reappearance next spring. We call them the ‘Christmas Rose’ here as they bloom at that time of the year. And they are indeed one of my favourite garden sights!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That thought makes me happy, Pauline! We are growing the same plants, yet they bloom and go into dormancy at opposite times. We are both awaiting the blooms, I’ll just see them a little sooner. And then it will be your turn. Everything is connected. 🙂🌸💕

      Liked by 1 person

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