Favourite Insect Friendly Flowers and Plants – January

Please read the full introduction in the parent page of ‘The Real Botany of Desire’ for why I am listing the observed insect friendly flowers that bloom here during this month, and which seem to be the most popular with the groups of insects which frequent our garden.

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Hamamelis ‘Robert’.

If this is a click too far, then briefly, there’s a huge issue with loss of wild flowers as agriculture intensifies and mono-cultures prevail. This impacts on all the insects which rely on flowers as food sources. But all flowers aren’t equal in their appeal to insects, or particular groups of insects, (e.g. honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies, moths, butterflies) and many nursery bred plants have been designed to be attractive to our senses, not insects. Some flowers are useful as both pollen and nectar sources whereas others just seem to provide one of these insect foodstuffs.

So this simple record is to help gardeners think about this issue, and maybe plant more flowers to help our very diverse native insect groups. I’ve found that many of the best plants seem to be some of our native wild flowers which can in other respects have real garden merit. Equally there are many plants from the other side of the globe which are preferentially favoured over native flowers at certain times of the year – there is no simple easy guide to their relative appeal. The positive spin offs from incorporating more insect friendly flowers in our gardens apart from the appeal of seeing the insects themselves will be better pollination of our crops, and more varied wildlife in our gardens, since insects are at the bottom of many animal food chains.

It’s certainly not exhaustive, and if you know other flowers which have equal appeal, which aren’t listed here, do please let me know, and I’ll trial them up here as well. This work started a couple of years before my blog began in March 2011, but previous to that I’d produced the UK’s first DVD-ROM guide to Garden Moths ” In a Different Light”. This project attempts to widen that work in a more general way.

As I mention elsewhere, the actual numbers of flowers of a single plant type growing together, and their position in the garden (e.g. sun, shade) can also impact on how favoured the flowers are by your garden’s insect population – probably because sun and warmth can affect nectar and pollen production and release.

SDIM6523 (2) There are few insects around in January on most days, but Hamamelis flowers are visited by some of the early flies which are around on milder days. But bees and moths don’t seem interested in the spidery blooms. This is Hamamelis ‘Nina’.

In 2012, flowers appeared on Daphne laureola subspp. philippi unseasonably early in January. This equally early Hebrew character moth, Orthosia gothica, took advantage of its rich nectar. The best of our Daphnes, as far as moths are concerned, but a pretty weak and ordinary scent for human noses.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is a wonderful potential nectar and pollen source in January for on site honeybees, should weather conditions permit foraging, but often this isn’t the case, as in 2021, above.

In 2011/2012, our Camellia sasanqua flowered for the first, (and not repeated in 2012/13), time. They had an attractive scent and obviously appealed to the few flies about on sunnier mild days.

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SDIM7182 (2) Early snowdrop, Galanthus, cultivars may be visited by both honeybees for pollen, if the weather is mild enough and you have a hive near by, and occasionally you may find a moth inside the flowers at night. But in the majority of years, there are simply no suitable foraging days throughout the whole month. The bee below was the single one seen throughout the whole of the month in 2019.

Whether the moth visits for nectar, or because the flowers are slightly warmer than the environment, I’m not sure. This is a local form of Galanthus nivalis, the most common native snowdrop. On the last day of January 2013, before any bees or moths had been seen in the garden, a number of these small flies were on and underneath the petals of some snowdrop blooms. Almost certainly they will play some incidental pollinating role, But they may also be benefiting from shelter and possible extra warmth within the flower, on what was a very cool, if sunny day with a strong blustery Northerly wind. Researching the issue of possible thermogenesis in snowdrop flowers is what made me start writing a blog in 2011.

Finally, our favourite early Crocus sieberi ‘Firefly’, is nearly always above ground in January, but rarely has the weather to allow the flowers to open!

Last updated 27/03/2021

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