So I have a peony wedding this weekend, and I was reminded by my bride of an old myth that just won’t go away.  I know everyone has a grandmother that has a story that gets passed on to the next generation.  Of course I admire that because I value the heritage and history in my family.  However it did recently come to light that grandmother’s  pot roast recipe called for you to cut the end off the roast before you placed it in the pot, when Grandma was asked about this,  she told us that the end of the roast was always cut off because it wouldn’t fit in her pot!…so there you go…that’s how myths get passed on from generation to generation.  I love that joke, and it’s great for the purpose of illustrating my point about myths.

Any way, back to my bride… there seems to be no end to the myth that ants help peony buds to open,  but like any flower, peonies will open up on their own. The ants are there because they are attracted to the sweet nectar on peony buds.    That’s it, there is no mystery here, just the truth.

I couldn’t help but laugh at this post I found on a gardening forum:

I’ve copied it and pasted it in as it was written, just to prove the point that the peony myth continues:

Do Peonies NEED ants? I know ants are attracted to them, but do they have a symbiotic relationship? I know that ants love peonies, and i know that the peonies like the ants, because they help to pollinate the peonies, but aside from pollination, what other benifits do ants offer peonies, because i am about to plant some in my yard and i HATE how plants look when an ant hill is growing up around it. so if the peony doesn’t NEED the ants i would like to know the best way to keep an anthill from forming at its base. * 3 months ago

Best answer-by voters was:   Yes, it won’t bloom without the ants.

So there you have it…the myth continues! Let me say it again,  an ant-less peony WILL open and  ants don’t need to “tickle the buds” or “lick the sugar” to help them open either.  Contrary to popular belief, ants on peonies don’t harm the flowers at all, so there’s no reason to spray them. If you have ants in the garden, they will be attracted to a sugary coating that is on the peony flower buds and they get a lot of bad pr, but they will not harm the peonies.  You can pick your peonies in the bud stage, wait until the buds are starting to swell ( like right before they open) and they will open in the warmth of the room in about 3-4  days.
A little peony history….The American Peony Society was created in 1904. One of the first major undertakings in peony history was by the American Peony Society who became involved in a joint project with Cornell University to study as many as twenty six hundred peony varieties that were being grown at that time.

Then there was another historical figure named Frederick A. Goodrich  who established a farm in 1918 with 12 peony plants and in 1921 he had over 100 varieties. By 1925, the farm had grown to 200 acres of flowers and 700 varieties of peonies.  Indiana grower Harry E. Little who was a hybridizer in the peony world joined up with Goodrich and together they developed the largest peony farm in the United States.

You can read about the rescue and preservation project for peonies from Goodrich and Little’s Indian Spring Farm here: