With names like Chariots of Fire and High Voltage, the hibiscus plant is guaranteed to be a showstopper, but with that kind of high drama, hangers-on (in the form of pests) are likely. Between the sweet-smelling nectar and the hibiscus' preference for warm weather, many small, unwanted beasties tend to be attracted to this plant.
Ants are almost machine-like in their ability to invade plants, homes and any surrounding structure. Though there are many types of ants, they are all motivated by any type of food, particularly sweets. Ants tend to nest in the soil, under boards, stones, buildings or other protected places. Colonies are established by a mated queen. Ants born to this queen become sterile workers who soon venture from the nest to procure food for the queen and subsequent offspring. As the nest increases with population, the queen will eventually produce ants who are able to mate, leave the nest and reproduce on their own.
Ants will infest the hibiscus plant for the nectar located deep inside each flower. The sweet-tasting nectar is a food source worth collecting for the ant. Though invasion of this type is not detrimental to the plant or the flower, it is unsightly.
Ants and Other Pests
Ants are particularly detrimental to hibiscus because of their interest and protection of other pests that are capable of actual destruction of the plant. Aphids are one such pest. Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects. They can be a variety of colors, green, yellow, brown, red or black–depending on the type of plant they infest. The ant and the aphid have a symbiotic relationship in which aphids gain protection from predators, such as ladybugs, while ants gain a food source in the form of honeydew produced by aphids. Ants carry aphid eggs onto the plant, thereby giving aphids a residence. Aphids in small numbers are not a threat, but allowed to proliferate, they can cause leaf distortion and curling. Aphids are undesirable for their ability to pass viruses from plant to plant and for the sooty mold that grows on the honeydew which aphids excrete on plant leaves. Another similar sap-sucking insect that attracts ants is the whitefly.
A number of methods can be employed to eradicate ants. Bait traps, in which worker ants take poisonous bait to the queen are useful for stopping future ant reproduction. Also available are pesticide sprays which kill ants on contact. These generally keep ants at bay for two to three weeks. After that, spraying will need to be repeated. Controlling aphids and other pests that provide a benefit to ants is another option.
Proper care, feeding and irrigation of hibiscus will promote resistance from pests. Keeping a close watch for insects such as aphids and whiteflies is beneficial. A sharp blast of water will disable most aphids. Ants are notorious invaders which multiply quickly, it is best to arrest them quickly.
- University of California, Davis: Integrated Pest Management: Ants Management Guidelines
- University of California, Davis: Integrated Pest Management, Pest Notes: Whiteflies Management Guidelines
- Hidden Valley Hibiscus: Ants, They Seem To Be Attacking My Hibiscus!
- University of California, Davis: Integrated Plant Managment: Aphids Management Guidelines