Many gardeners face problems of pest attacks on their orchid plants because the pleasant odor of flowers and secretions can grab the attention of ants.
Are Ants Attracted To Orchids? Ants are attracted to orchids to get shelter, honeydew, fungi, water, floral nectar, and seeds, in addition to protecting plants from pests. You can keep ants away from plants by spreading spices and spraying baking soda solution, alcoholic spray, and soapy water. In addition, growing carnivorous plants around orchids can help prevent these insects.
Orchids symbiotically associate with many insects to get the benefits, but a few pests are harmful to their survival and cause significant damage to their structure.
Why are ants attracted to orchids?
Ants reach orchid plants for various reasons, but mainly, they do this to build mutual relationships with them.
A few species of orchids are myrmecophytes that are adapted to live in close association with ants and provide nesting space for a colony of these insects.
They also provide benefits to plants in return and help in seed dispersal. In addition, ants also offer protection from pests, like bees and butterflies, by engaging in a mutual relationship.
Their trails look like an army of insects patrolling the plant to deter pests. They protect plants from herbivorous insects and obtain food from leaves or other parts for energy and nutrition.
Ants are attracted to nectar because it’s sweet odor and liquid texture make it a potential food source for them.
Moreover, it is also considered a reward from orchid plants to insects for protecting them from pests damaging flowers.
They have extrafloral nectaries or nectar-producing glands commonly present on leaves, flowers, and stems.
Accordingly, these sugary secretions grab their attention while navigating food sources because they fall on their criteria for food selection.
The level of attraction increases among ants if scale insects or aphids infest the orchids because these insects are known to associate with each other mutually.
They release honeydew secretions by feeding on the plants and attracting these tiny creatures due to the sweetness of the honeydew.
So, this attraction can result from their interest in the secretions of scale insects and aphids, as they need sweet food that is rich in carbohydrates and packed with energy.
Orchid plants have some structural adaptations in their stems, leaves, rhizomes, and other parts, providing space for living.
Moreover, they have hollow stems and pseudobulbs, providing suitable hiding space for ants. They establish colonies within hollow stems and get shelter from the plant.
Their mutual relationship benefits insects as they can live in it and get food from them. They do not have to move as both of their necessities of shelter or food are fulfilled by it.
A few species of orchids produce seeds containing elaiosomes packed with reserves of energy and nutrition. This part of the seeds is rich in fats and other nutritional elements required for growth.
Accordingly, ants eat this fatty part of the elaiosomes and get nutrition from it. They are unintentional helpers because they carry seeds away from the plant.
They carry seeds on their back or hold them with mandibles while bringing them back to their nests. This way, they take seeds to a new location and throw the remaining part after eating elaiosomes.
Associate with fungi
Orchids provide a suitable habitat for mycorrhizal fungi because these fungi help plants absorb nutrients from the ground surface.
Their efficiency of nutrient absorption increases when fungi facilitate the process of absorption from the soil. The ants are attracted to it to associate with fungi and build mutual relationships.
Fungi break bigger food particles into tiny particles and turn complex carbohydrates into simpler ones that are easier for them to digest.
In addition, they also obtain nutrition from fungi because they get nutrition from the fungal and mold growth on plants.
These plants need plenty of water to survive in hot conditions when the weather is dry because moist conditions are favorable for the blooming of flowers.
Ants usually reach there for water resources because gardeners keep the soil moist. They can hydrate their bodies by drinking water or living in moist soil.
So, this attacking behavior or infestation occurs when the soil around the plant is moist. However, they avoid reaching plants if the water level is high.
How do I get rid of ants in my orchids?
It is essential to get rid of ants in orchid plants. Accordingly, you have to keep them at a distance from plants using natural and chemical methods that are safe and easy to use.
Moreover, you can also spray baking soda solution to remove fungal infections that can become a source of attraction for ants. Dissolve baking soda in water to prepare the solution and spray it on the plant.
Soapy water also works well against the population of ants infesting the plant’s surface. Add 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in 1 liter of water to prepare the solution and pour it into a spray bottle.
Spray it directly on the leaves and stems to remove aphids and other tiny sap-sucking pests living there.
In the same way, spread spices like cinnamon powder or garlic cloves close to the pots of orchids.
One of my friends spread orange peels around the base of the plant and found no ants around it for many days. However, you have to look for another method to remove them permanently.
You can grow naturally repelling plants, like mint, lavender, lemon, etc., because they avoid getting closer to areas with unpleasant odors of these plants.
In addition, growing carnivorous plants can also help protect your orchids from damage. For example, butterwort and darlingtonia can catch them by attracting them.
Their sap attracts insects, resulting in a slip into a water-filled pod containing natural insecticides.
It is a time-consuming method but gives good results because ants begin to die without using any harmful chemicals or sprays.
Furthermore, you can prepare an alcoholic spray to cover its foliage and remove attacking pests. Spray rubbing alcohol on the foliage, wait 10 to 15 minutes, and rinse the leaves.
All these methods are natural and non-toxic and do not cause harm to the environment and pets.
What types of ants are attracted to orchids?
Several species of ants reach this plant. A few species infest for specialized structures or extrafloral nectaries to consume nectar.
You can also see thief ants on plants for nectaries and suck sweet juice from these glands. I found these tiny yellowish ants crawling on my orchids that were going to eat nectar.
Small brown or argentine ants prefer to eat sugary foods and attack them to eat sweet nectar. In addition, carpenter ants also reach hollow stems and make tunnels.
Furthermore, pharaoh ants also reach these plants for shelter and are attracted to sugary secretions like honeydew and nectar.