Ants to the rescue

We often do not credit plants for their smart behaviour. You would be amazed to know some facts about how plants can influence their environment to suit their purpose. We see a lot of co-operation between various species and how they work in tandem to fight an enemy. Plants can call for help and enlist different species to help fight a pest that is irritating them. Peonies, as the latest research shows, are masters at this.

One thing for certain about the blooming of peonies is that ants invite themselves in large number to the blooming peony. After the flowers wither, ants also disappear. For a long time, people felt that Peony needs ants for blooming but that is not true. However, there might be a different reason how the ants and peonies help each other.

When a peony blooms, it starts as a bud grows to a marshmallow stage and then before blooming. The plant’s nectaries are at the base of the green sepals that surround the peony flower. These nectaries secrete sweet-smelling delicious nectar that invites a lot of ants. The scouting ant is delighted when it finds an abundant source of sugar, amino acids which is a treat to ants. So, the invitation is sent to the ants who form a line to the peonies.

But if you think that ants invite themselves to scourge on the nectar, you are in for a surprise. Many pests and insects attack the peony plant and feed on the flower buds.

Peony pests

For example, Thrips feed on plant tissue, the flower and cause distress to the plants. Mealybugs attack the stems, lower leaves of the peonies and kill the leaves. Bulb mites feed on peony roots and cause diseases spoiling the roots and stem. Adult Hoplia beetles eat through the flower buds and spoil them. Though some consider ants on peonies as pests, we now know that the ants rarely cause any damage to the peonies. Recent research by Michele Warmund, University of Missouri, showed that ants eat the other bugs and free the plants. Right at the beginning, the plant nectar invites the ants to come and feed, thus preventing the other insects from bothering it. Even in case an insect falters and tries to eat the bud away, it is surely eaten away by the ants.

This shows an excellent example of biological mutualism between peony flowers and ants. So, in reality, the ants are summoned by the Peony plant for helping with its pests and ants are sumptuously rewarded by the Peony nectar. Amazing, isn’t it?

What happens when you cut a peony flower and want to get rid of the ants? Just shake them off, rub them off or dip them in water and let them slide away. They were invited as guests!

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PlantScience blog is an insightful discussion to understand and explain the science behind the great success of plants – how plants live, survive. Nature at its best is a great repository of knowledge and most of it is still a mystery to our minds. However, at Atrimed PlantScience, we have willed ourselves to research, understand the best-kept secrets of Nature and use that knowledge to the betterment of our health. We believe in thinking beyond, knowing beyond and using the best research capabilities to understand the science plants use to live, thrive, adapt and grow. In this blog, you would find details of some interesting plant facts, the science behind them, snippets of history, updates about science and many interesting secrets. Read, subscribe, share your comments about PlantScience with us. Thank you!

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