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Peonies and Ants: A Mutualistic Relationship

Ants and peonies have a mutually beneficial relationship, meaning, they both have something to gain from interacting with each other.

This is something we see all over the animal kingdom [1], like the oxpecker and rhinoceros (Oxpeckers land on rhinos or zebras and eat ticks and other parasites that live on their skin).

In short, ants feed off of a substance produced by peonies, while they help peonies by protecting them (and helping a little with pollination). This relationship is called mutualism.

What Are Peonies?

Peonies are beautiful flowers that come in all sorts of colors. They bloom during the early summer for weeks before stopping later on in the season. Peonies rely heavily on insects to bring them pollen so they can reproduce and keep spreading their seeds for new peonies to grow the following season.

ants on red flower

How Do Peonies and Ants Help Each Other?

Peonies help out ants by providing them with food – ants return the favor by protecting them, as well as helping out a little with pollination.

Ants are attracted to peonies because peonies produce the chemical benzaldehyde (which is also found in blackberries and apples), as well as produce sugary nectar for the ants to feed on. 

Ants act as a part of the peony’s natural pollination process. They cannot harm peonies because they do not eat or damage petals like other insects. Ants actually protect peonies against other insects that want to feed on the buds.

Also read: What are ants good for?

Why Are Ants Attracted to Peonies?

Peonies produce sugary nectar that contains many of the nutrients ants need to stay alive as well as grow the colony. When a scout ant finds a peony, they will eat some of the nectar, and afterward go running back to the colony.

ants crawling on peonies

When ants find a food source, they emit a pheromone. This pheromone will make a trail from the nest to the food source, in order to let other ants know where they can find nutrients. 

As more ants come to feed on the flower, they’ll reinforce this trail, until there’s no more food left to eat.

Peonies also give off a specific scent that ants find very attractive.

Do Peonies Need Ants to Bloom?

No, peonies don’t need ants to bloom. Ants feed off of the flowers, and in return, they protect them while they feed on the nectar secreted by the flower. That’s all ants help with. Protection against floral-feeding insects. Not blooming.

Are Ants Harmful to Peonies?

No, ants are not harmful to peonies. Ants only eat the nectar that peonies produce, not the actual flower itself. As long as there’s nectar, the ants will hang around. Once they’ve eaten it all, they will disappear, leaving the peony to itself.

ants with nectar on red petals

The presence of ants is merely temporary, hence there’s no need to use pesticides to get rid of them. While ants are there, they actually help protect the plant from insects that would otherwise damage it.

How to Remove Ants on Peonies

There’s no need to remove ants on peonies. They go away as soon as they’re done fetching all of the nectar that’s been secreted by the flower.

When ants are feeding on the peony nectar, they can accidentally bring aphids on their way. These little creatures feed on the peony leaves, damaging the flowers. Aphid feeding causes defoliation of peonies which does not allow for a healthy bloom cycle next year.

red ant on the leaf of a peony

Inspect peonies before bringing them indoors during the winter months [2]. If you find an infestation of aphids or other insects, wash all leaves with water from a garden hose until pests are gone completely before putting potted peonies away for winter storage. 

Also read: How to get rid of ants in potted plants

Remember to be gentle.

Pesticide can also be used to remove insects from plants by spraying directly onto the plant canopy and allowing it time to soak into the underside of leaf surfaces where many pest species reside. Then, rinse peony leaves with water from a garden hose.

Aphids are attracted to fresh new tender shoots while they do not show much interest in established woody parts of plants like stems and branches. Prune back dead stems on potted peonies before bringing them indoors to reduce the chance of aphids arriving early.

Containers should be stored in a garage or shed where pests cannot gain access during the winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do ants damage peonies?

Ants don’t damage peonies, on the contrary, they protect peonies against pests. Since ants feed off of the flowers, they do what they can to preserve and protect these flowers against animals that eat them.

Do ants help open up peonies?

No, ants don’t directly help peonies open up, but they do help with pollination, which helps nurture peonies. In some way, they do help open up peonies, but as said, they don’t do this directly.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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