ok go ahead...laugh it off... ;-)
BUT I'M SERIOUS! (seriously!)
you might wonder if I have lost my mind, but you'll see that I haven't
(atleast not to my knowledge :-] )
Here is a rather lengthy description of my madness:
I am setting up a biotope (basically a simulated natural environment)
in an old aquarium. In it, I will be raising a colony of ants
(complete with the queen and all) next to an aquatic environment with
fish, aquatic snails, and other critters inside. Part of the beauty
of a biotope is to observe nature (the other fun part is
designing/building it...hehe). It so happens that this species of
ants in nature tends aphids, and in return feeds of off its "honeydew"
(a symbiosis if you will). Obviouly, I would like to mimic this as
much as possible. I am mimicing its natural environment as closely as
I can (humidity, temp, soil moisture, soil type, etc...) as well.
So here is my question for all you gardening experts:
BE YOUR ENEMY! Get into the tiny mind of the aphid and help me out!
Essentially, I need a plant that aphids will go crazy for, and just
cover it head to tail (or as close to that as realistically possible).
I am not terribly familiar with aphids, but I am assuming that while
they feed off of the plant, they do not kill it...right? Also, how
would I attract the aphids in the first place to come to the plant?
As hard as it may be to believe, I couldn't find any in the yard
(atleast not without a magnifying glass in hand). What kind of
environment do aphids do best in? moist? dry? humid? wamer? colder?
etc... The environment that I am setting up is very close to a
tropical area, along side a river (plenty of moisture available).
Essentially, I need a plant with the following characteristics (in
decreasing order of importance...ie #1 is most important criteria):
1. The plant should preferrably be cheap (less than $20) and easily
available (e.g. through HomeDepot and the like)
2. The plant should preferrably enjoy lots of moisture at its roots
(although it is possible for me to set up a drier area for the plant,
a moisture-lover is preferrable)
3. The plant shouldn't grow too tall (i.e. I would rather avoid large
trees such as citrus, cherries, maple, etc... since I am working in a
small environment). However, if the plant is otherwise ideal (or
pretty close), I am flexible on this [I'll just keep it trimmed]
4. Hopefully, the plant can withstand the abuse from the aphids (I
would rather not be running out and buying a new one every couple of
months as uprooting and replanting would disturb the environment too
much and most probably destroy the ant's nest underground. Keep in
mind that although this environment is open (exposed to the outdoors)
these ants will *viciously*
protect the aphid against all other
pests/fungi/predators [including but not limited to wasps, spiders,
and even killer bees!] that may stumble onto the plant. So the aphids
will be doing really well, and I want a plant that won't succumb to
5. Hopefully, the plant doesn't grow too fast, so that maintainance
would be minimal (though I am quite flxible on this because most
likely, the plant would have to be a fast grower to survive the aphid
infestation...plus most moisture-loving plants happen to be fast
growers as well)
5. The plant would have to respond well (or atleast not hate)
trimming, again because of space constraints (I think most plants
would fall into this category any how, so this is sort of a minor
constraint...unless my ignorace is far too great on the subject of
6. The plant can be a grass, shrub, a fern, ground cover (I even
considered clovers), tree or anything in between. However, I would
prefer that the plant is not an annual or prennial (again because I
don't want to have to re-plant and disturb the environment).
I realize that the idea might seem a bit...how would I put it
nicely..."off the wall" ;-] and I also realize that I have given you
quite a laundry list of criteria, and I also realize that this is a
really long post so far...but in your kindness and compassion and most
of all expertise! I am certain that you shall deliver the ideal
plant! (or even a laundry list of your own! hehe :-)
<steps down from the soap box>
On another note, this species of ants also enjoys its share of nectar
hunting ( as a carbohydrate source) and pollen chewing (as a protein
source), so I would like to also have a plant that offers flowers with
a sweet nectar (hopefully not an annual). Again my understanding is
quite limited in this area, but I think that bulbs would be ok (I am
under the assumption that "generally speaking" bulbs will re-flower
every year and do not need to be re-planted after a couple of
years???) Now if you could somehow come up with a plant that cultures
aphids...AND has a sweet-nectar flower...why...that would be TRULY
GODLY OF YOU! (hint hint) ;-]
PS> I would also welcome any suggestions for a ground
cover...especially one that is conducive to lots of "critters" living
under it (babytear comes to mind). Obviously, these "critters" would
be an additional food source for the ants [this species of ants is
known to even hunt its share of various worms underground].
PPS> In my digging up of previous posts on the subject, I came accross
one titled "So you want to grow aphids???" It was a rather funny and
sarcastic post and I enjoyed it a lot; but basically, the most useful
bit of info that I got from it was that aphids go absolutely nuts for
rose buds...so I am very seriously considering a rose as the candidate
to use. In that case, do you happen to know of a particular "strain"
of roses that is especially "susceptible" to aphids (or any other
insect "pest" which the ants would gladly feast on)??? As an
afterthought, that question might be better suited for the roses
group. I will attempt a post in there as well, but your feedback is
And finally...Please excuse the profusely long post with your own
grace and kindness!
Thanks a bunch for your help!
Sam in Los Angeles