Sounds more like the title of a book, play or movie. As it turns out it is a natural association between the flowers and the ants that happens most of the time in ground level gardens. If you have a roof garden they're going to miss out. This partnership benefits both the peony and the ant.
The Peony and the Ants Folklore would have you believe that peonies will not bloom unless there are ants on the buds. I know many a gardener that swears by that and remembers years when one of their peony didn’t bloom due to the lack of ants on the plant.
Science on the other hand proves otherwise. As the peony grows and makes buds, one can see green scales covering the bud. These scales have a specialized gland known as a nectary along it’s edge. And it produces The Peony and the Ants nectar. Ants have an extraordinary sense of smell. They can smell using their antennae. It happened more than once that I left an apple core, a slice of orange or a small piece of cantaloupe on the porch table. Sure enough, when I return 5-10 minutes later I find a group of ants intensely feeding on the leftover. I can follow the trail of ants along the wall leading to a spot on the floor at least 5 to 10 feet away. So yes, the ants can definitely smell the nectar on the bud of a peony. Or a scout ant finds it and then leaves a chemical trail for the rest of the colony. So yes the peony nectar is a very good source of food for the ants.
The Peony and the Ants What do the peonies get in return? Possibly the ants also eat some of the small insects and mites that can have a damaging effect on the peony. A few gardeners panic when they see the ants on the plant and quickly reach for the pesticide spray. They don’t what to get ants on their sleeves as they garden or bring them in the house once the flowers bloom. No need for that at all. Most ants will leave the peonies once they bloom. And if you see some on the cut flower, just turn it upside down and shake it gently.
Peonies are perennials that bloom in the spring and produce an exquisite flower with a strong fragrance ranging from sweet and rosy to citrusy and spicy. They make a wonderful lush, cloud-like arrangement for a centerpiece on your dining room table.
The Peony and the Ants I have three peony plants in my garden. I see ants on two of them. On the third one the buds are a bit small so far. I’ll keep an eye on that one. Once they bloom I’ll update the blog with those images.
Note: Click on the images to view at full size.