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Outdoors: Violets and ants

Wikimedia Commons

In his plays and sonnets, William Shakespeare often wrote of flowers, and violets appear frequently in his work.

For him and for members of his audiences, flowers had symbolic meanings.

Because violets appear in spring and then fade away, for Shakespeare, violets were a symbol of sorrow and death - particularly of someone who died young, soon after the “springtime” of their lives.

The fragrant blossoms of violets do fade, but the seeds remain, and they are spread and planted by ants.

Ants - nasty little ants! - apparently plant some of our most beloved spring wildflowers including hepatica, bloodroot, anemone, trillium and violets.

Seeds of many spring wildflowers have little bumps filled with oils and sometimes sugar.

These juicy little morsels must be irresistible, and the ants collect and haul them home and down into their nests and tunnels.

But when the time comes to eat, the ants find that the actual seeds have extremely hard shells - too hard for ants to eat.

So the tidy creatures discard the wildflower seeds in one of their underground chambers.

In other words, they plant flowers. Violet and ants? An odd connection.

But as an early ecologist, Shakespeare wrote, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.