By: Wendy Langhans
As a child growing up in Wisconsin, our front yard was the perfect spot for hanging out with friends on a warm spring afternoon: a shady tree, a dirt driveway perfect for shooting marbles, and plenty of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Our driveway was flanked by flower garden which included several peony bushes. Every year, I remember watching the peonies push up through the soil. Soon their elongating stems were sprouting leaves and then tiny buds, which seemed to grow larger every day. And just like clockwork, right before those softball-sized buds burst into bloom, they were swarmed by ants. Why ants? Why just before blooming? I didn’t know then but I know now – it seems my friends and I weren’t the only ones snacking on something sweet. The ants were also feasting on the sweet nectar produced by extrafloral nectaries.
Many of us are familiar with the nectar found in flower blossoms. But many flowering plants, including peonies, also have extrafloral nectaries – a botanical term that means “nectar-producing glands physically apart from the flower”. Worldwide, over 2,000 plant species have been identified with extrafloral nectaries, including our own native California Peony (Paeonia Californica).
Extrafloral nectaries are usually found near a plant’s leaves and stems: “leaf laminae (Photo 3), petioles (Photo 4), rachids (the midrib of a leaf), bracts, stipules, pedicels (Photo 5), fruit, etc.” They serve a useful purpose; ants are attracted to the sweet nectar and they protect the plant against herbivores. To get a glimpse of an ant feeding on an extrafloral nectary, click here.
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In the case of Peonies, including the wild California Peony, the extrafloral nectaries are located at the edge of the bud scales. These scales wrap around and protect the flower bud like a candy wrapper protects the candy. And now I know that, just like candy wrappers, the bud scales have a bit of sweetness to them.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at email@example.com for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, March 14, 21 & 28
Saturday mornings, March 24
Saturday, March 17 18, 8 AM – 10 AM. Up with the birds. Check out the unique migratory birds as they travel north with our in-house birder, Volunteer Naturalist Roger. Beginners are welcome on this easy walk. Bring binoculars. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
Saturday, March 17, 10 AM – 12 PM. A Celebration of Spring Wildflowers. Towsley Canyon is the perfect place to see this year’s splendid wildflower display. Revel in the beautiful colors of spring. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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