Nectar Rich Flowers For Butterflies and Bees
Since 1976 our Butterfly and Bee populations have really been in decline. The destruction of natural habitats by more intensive farming methods and loss of wild flower meadows although somewhat offset by “set aside land” has still resulted in a decline of around 40%.The curtailment of the use of some insecticides has helped stop the decline in numbers but we need to restore many species, after all our fruit production relies on the pollinating insects. In our gardens we can play a part in providing nectar rich plants and suitable habitats, although on a small scale, together these become an enormous resource.
Plants rich in nectar provide butterflies and bees with energy. As they drink the nectar pollen adheres to them and as they travel from flower to flower it is transferred resulting in pollination which sets the seed and fruit. Solitary bees like Mason Bees can be attracted to the garden by providing a bee house or making one from wood or straws. Butterflies like warmth so plant nectar rich plants to attract a wide variety of butterflies and moths in sheltered warm sunny places.
A very useful group of plants with high nectar levels in June are the flowering Herbs. Chives with bright pink onion flowers are loved by Bumble, Honey and Mason Bees. Majorum and Oregano are a great nectar source for Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock Butterflies.
Thymes and English Lavender, with its relaxing properties, are magnets to all bees and butterflies. Comfrey as well as having many medicinal properties is another great nectar source for all pollinating insects and when the leaves are harvested, steeped in water for about 3 weeks it makes a brilliant plant food as high in NPK as proprietary brands like Tomorite.
Honeysuckles are easy to grow climbing plants for a sunny wall, fence or pergola. There are many varieties that flower at different times during the summer months. They have long tubular flowers rich in sweet scented nectar and are visited by long tongued Bumble, Carder and Wool Bees and at night time by moths. Another plant to grow against a warm south facing wall is Ceanothus. Most varieties are medium sized evergreen shrubs with blue flowers in June. Such a magnet to all butterflies and bees it buzzes all day long when in flower.
Cotoneaster Horizontalis is another smaller shrub that can be grown against a dry sunny wall. It is a semi evergreen with masses of pink and white flowers followed by bright red berries loved by the birds in autumn. When in flower it is another “humming” plant being visited by bees eager to drink the sweet nectar.
Bees also love Roses with single flowers and one whirl of petals. The prominent exposed pollen rich stamens attract bees. Good varieties are Pauls Himalayan Musk with its intoxicating heady perfume, the soft pink flowers of Ballerina and the masses of white single roses of Wedding Day.
Buddleija Buzz Series are a compact group of the Butterfly Bush and as the name implies are a favourite with butterflies. The flower colours are white, pink, blue or purple with silver green foliage. The long cone shaped flowers are made up of many tiny scented florets often with orange centres. They are in flower later in summer and are the major source of nectar to Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral Butterflies before they migrate to warmer climes to overwinter.
Foxgloves tall spikes of flowers are also a Bee favourite and again designed to cover the insect with pollen as it emerges from the tubular floret where it seeks the nectar. The bright colours of Delphiniums another favourite of the perennial border attract Bumble Bees. The Millenniu group vary in colour from white, pink, blue to dark purple and flower twice each summer if cut back as the first flower flush fades.
Verbena Bonariensis is a tall herbaceous plant with wiry stems and small purple flowers with lots of nectar for Bees and Butterflies again later in the summer. This is an excellent filler plant in the perennial border which will act as a natural support for taller plants nearby.
Finally Monarda, also called Bee Balm because it was used to soothe bee stings, is one of the plants in the garden most visited by bees and butterflies for nectar. They flock greedily to the red and pink tufted flowers in summer.
By choosing the right plants we can not only add variety to our gardens but help to provide energy sources for these declining valuable insect populations that are so important to our daily lives.