Is It True Peonies Need Ants To Bloom?

Peonies are especially beautiful. They make a great cut flower, except for a few ants that hitchhike indoors. You don’t have to search far to locate ants on the plump, round flower buds of peonies. Is it true that ants are required for peony flower buds to open normally, or is it a myth, an old wives’ tale as some would say.

Now, I’m never quick to dismiss old wives’ tales, because some of the best gardeners I’ve ever known have been old wives. But sometimes gardening legends get skewed a bit, and I’ve heard the ants and peony legend for at least 55 years. Is it true?

No. All researchers from Iowa State University to Cornell and everyone in-between have shown that ants are not necessary for normal peony flower bud progression. But there is a connection.

Healthy peony flower buds exude sap, which attracts ants to the sugary sweetness. Ants are good little insects, as far as plants are concerned. They do no harm to the peonies, and may even ward off a few harmful insects. The presence of ants might even indicate healthy peonies exuding a generous amount of sap.

But peony flowers have been shown to open completely normally without the presence of ants. This has easily been done in controlled conditions where ants are excluded.

So if peony flowers fail to open, the absence of ants isn’t the cause. Likely other reasons include too-deep planting, lack of direct full-day sun, botrytis blight and competition from encroaching grass.

So the legend was skewed a bit. Peonies don’t need ants, but ants do take advantage of a free meal. And that’s how the story ends.

Happy Gardening!

1 Response

  1. sugarpies

    Ha! I just heard that old wives’ tale for the first time this year! Glad to know the truth about the situation.

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