Trout Lilies and Ants…

February 21, 2007


University of Arkansas
Division of Agriculture

Trout lily seeds contain a structure on the outside of the seed coat called an elaiosome that

acts like catnip for various species of ants. About a third of our woodland wildflowers are

dispersed by ants.

Art Guppy, an Erythronium expert and close observer of ants, thinks that ants may not actually

get much out of the exchange when they disperse trout lily seed. He thinks the elaisome produces

a volatile pheromone that triggers something called the “dead corpse response.”

He observed that ants excitedly grab fresh trout lily seeds and carry them away. But, before they

get to their nests, they loose interest in the seed and drop it. Other ants pass by and pay it no


According to Guppy’s thinking, this chemical signal tricks the ant into moving the seed away from

the parent plant, but not to take it as far as the nest where conditions might be less favorable

for its germination and subsequent development.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – March 31, 2006

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