Botanist's Lens: Biological Mutualism
Peonies (Paeonias sps.) certainly steal the show in May in the ornamental gardens at Historic London Town and Gardens. Very aptly, Paeonia sps. are referred to as the 'King of Flowers.' London Town has a gorgeous collection of both the tree form of Peonies as well as the herbaceous ones. Tree peonies usually flower before the herbaceous ones.
If you have observed peonies closely, you will notice that the buds and base of the flower is usually loaded with black ants. The black ants and peonies share a mutually beneficial relationship. The ants help eradicate other floral feeding small insects, and in return, the peonies provide sweet nectar as food for the ants. There is a misconception however, that ants help open up the peony flower. In fact, peony flowers can open with or without the ants present around the flower. The ants are also harmless to the growth of the peony plant, so you can leave the ants alone and let them relish the peony nectar.
The tree peonies are London Town have been in the ground for 30 plus years. They have the most stunning display of flowers. Unlike the herbaceous peonies, the tree peonies maintain their woody stem throughout the year. Their leaves are slightly more deeply dissected than the herbaceous ones. When planting tree peonies make sure they are at least 8 -10' further away from any trees/shrubs, otherwise the peony roots will compete with the tree roots for water and nutrients. Also, tree peonies are drought tolerant. Excess water can suffocate them.
Enjoy the pictures of the brightest red-maroon to the softest pastel coral bell peony colors. But honestly, the pictures don't do any justice to the luscious blooms of the peonies, so I absolutely recommend coming to London Town to enjoy them in coming weeks. No peony will disappoint you! Make sure you notice the ants and how they work their way around the blooms.