you think ants in the kitchen and violets in the yard
are not a good thing, you are right on one.
are unwelcomed parades across a kitchen counter or
however, are bright spots in the spring yard.
bright little plant often grows in lawns that are not
mowed too often nor too high," says Helen Hamilton,
past president of the John Clayton Chapter, Virginia
Native Plant Society, and retired biology teacher living
in Williamsburg, Va. Learn more about the native plant
society at www.vnps.org.
Tech lists this violet as ‘primarily a weed of
turfgrass and landscapes,’ but their deep purple-blue
color is a welcome sign of spring.
are host plants for fritillary butterflies. They lay
their eggs on the leaves, which are food source for
their larvae, the caterpillars."
blue violet, or Viola sororia, thrives in most Virginia
counties, and is commonly found in the eastern and
central United States, according to Hamilton.
flowers and leaves are on separate stems, and grow no
more than eight inches tall. Violets reproduce in three
ways. During early spring and fall when there are few
insects, barely-seen flowers self-pollinate. When the
flowers bloom March-June, insects visit the flowers for
nectar, which results in cross-pollination, she
flowering, the plant’s seed capsules eject seeds into
the air. Some species of ants feed on a sweet appendage
on the seeds, which helps scatter the seeds elsewhere.
addition, violets reproduce from branching rhizomes that
form colonies in natural habitats. The plants also
become weedy in lawns, fields and pastures.
blue violet likes partial sun or light shade and moist
to average conditions. The soil should be a rich silty
loam or clay loam with above average amounts of organic
flowers and young leaves of violets are edible, and can
be added to salads in small amounts, although the taste
is bland," says Hamilton.
are several forms of Viola sororia with differently
colored flowers. A variety with whitish petals and
violet markings is called Confederate violet. Common
blue violet is the state flower of New Jersey, Illinois,
Rhode Island and Wisconsin, according to Hamilton.
silly saying "ants in your pants" is a fun way
to tell someone they can’t sit still, and it actually
fits the tiny insect’s busy lifestyle.
Hamilton writes about ants, she loves to quote Edward O.
Wilson who made a lifetime study of the creatures.
1990 publication The Ants is encyclopedic, a systemic
study of ants and their behavior," says Hamilton.
are everywhere, on all landmasses on Earth, with the
exception of a few remote islands. They thrive in most
ecosystems and may form almost one-quarter of the whole
biomass of terrestrial animals. These are ancient
animals, with a long lineage. Dr. Wilson found an ant
fossil dating to the Cretaceous period, 92 million years
ago. He estimates there are approximately one million
ants for every human on Earth."
in a wide range of ecological niches, ants rely on
different food resources. They feed on plant material,
dead or alive, and on animals usually smaller than
are fascinated watching leafcutter ants move in columns
across a footpath, carrying fragments many times larger
than themselves," Hamilton says.
are good at dispersing seeds on several familiar plants,
she adds, including violets, spring beauty, trillium,
hellebore, hepatica, bloodroot and other early
spring-blooming species. These plants add a small
structure, called an eliaosome, to their seeds. The
structures contain fats and proteins that ants like, so
they carry the seeds back to their nests. After the ants
eat the eliaosomes, they discard the seeds on their
trash pile, which contains nutrients that promote the
growth of new seedlings.
are easily identified by their elbowed antennae and
divided body parts with a slender waist.
colonies last a long time, with queens that can live up
to 30 years, and workers one to three years, according
to Hamilton. They are very active in warm weather, and
less so in cooler climates.
very successful lifestyle has been a subject of study,
since the division of labor, communication between
individuals, and the ability to solve problems has
parallels with human societies," says Hamilton.
communicate in many ways — sounds, touches and
chemical signals (pheromones), which they gather with
long and thin antennae.
word ‘ant’ comes from old languages. The original
meaning was ‘the biter,’ probably referring to the
strong jaws on the head, used to carry food, to
construct nests and for self-defense."