Of Ants, Aphids, and Dock

I should call my garden Scheherazade. She tells me a thousand and one stories. Nothing gets lopped as long as there is a tale to be told.

Today we have Curly Dock, or Rumex crispus, a member of the Buckwheat family. “A deliciously raw tart green if you can find it young. A delicioius cooked green in spring and fall,” says Edible Wild Plants author John Kallas. No, I haven’t tried it. As a folk remedy, herbalists have used it to treat skin diseases, rheumatism, liver ailments, and “bad blood.” No, it’s not on my list of cures either.

In any event, four-foot tall curly dock pops up here and there in our garden. I find it stately. But the first time I saw one swarming with big black ants I cut it down and carefully transported the remains to the compost bin. I live in a wooden house. Carpenter ants freak me out.

That was year one. I’ve since taken a closer look.

Ants tending the aphids on a curly dock plant
Ants tending the aphids on a curly dock plant

Dock’s sap attracts dock aphids (Aphis rumicis). And these aphids are attended by ants. I can’t tell if it is symbiotic or if the ants are just harvesting the sugar-bloated aphids.

It’s really a creepy made-for-horror scene until you can take a deep breath and just let nature tell you a story.

Wine poured.

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