Please read the introductory page in the Real Botany of Desire for the background to why I’m listing the observed insect favourite flowers that bloom during this month, and which seem to be the most popular with the groups of insects which frequent our garden. As with May, choosing just my top 5 favourite insect friendly flowers in this month is tricky, but I’ll go for Rosa moyesii, Pyrenean valerian, Valeriana pyrenaica, the native Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, Geranium phaeum, and Limnanthes douglasii subsp. nivea ‘Meringue’
(several brilliant insect friendly flowers from May will often also still be flowering into June).
If reading the introduction 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 both as pollen and nectar sources whilst other flowers simply provide just one of these insect ‘foodstuffs’. 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 in other respects also 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’s no simple easy guide to their relative appeal. Click below for an idea of the numbers, and sound of bumblebees and honeybees which can be active on a sunny June day, in the garden.
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.
In a normal June, flower numbers are building to a crescendo and as in May the challenge for a busy gardener is to have the luxury of spending time just observing which flowers are being visited by which insects. In 2012, when I first started this record, in one of the wettest and gloomiest Junes on record in West Wales and the UK as a whole, even fewer opportunities existed. But I did have the subjective impression that some flowers which in previous years had been buzzing with insects, weren’t visited to the same extent. Whether this was because insect numbers were reduced in the cold wet conditions, or whether certain flowers require more warmth and sunshine to produce a rich nectar harvest, or a combination of factors, I don’t know. As an example, Cotoneaster flowers seem to have been quieter than normal with fewer insect visits in 2012.
It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, 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.
Another point to ponder if you actually stand and watch honeybees, bumblebees or any other insects working in the garden, is how quickly they discover which flowers are their preferred ones from all those available. None of them you observe will ever have experienced the seasonal flowers in a temperate garden before, since both flowers and insect visitors have such relatively short lifespans, yet within just hours of emerging as adult insect forms they develop clearly defined favourites, which can change from day to day, or even through the day, often to the complete exclusion of many flowers which we may find attractive.
It’s been estimated that a vibrant hay meadow can have over 40 species per square metre, and over 500 flowers per square metre, during the peak flowering season, which is a huge floral resource. (Watch this Plantlife video, produced by their current botanical specialist, Dr. Trevor Dines, for more about the value of wildflower meadow restoration, and their species diversity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd5rIxIWQTA). Click here, and here, for two fascinating papers from researchers base at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, on the relative values of different plants as nectar sources for honeybees, both locally and from around the UK.)
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, shelter from wind) can also impact on how favoured the flowers are by your garden’s insect population – probably because sunshine and warmth can affect nectar and pollen production and release, as well as the actual temperature the insect will experience whilst visiting a particular flower:
The tiny flowers of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ are surprisingly popular with many solitary bees, hoverflies and bumblebees in spite of their very small size.
Clematis orientalis which flowers for many months in the summer and early autumn is, unlike many Clematis flowers, frequently visited by bumblebees and hover flies.
The common trailing Campanula poscharskyana, indigenous to the mountains of Croatia and Bosnia, which grows in very dry sunny places like cracks in walls, as here, is visited by hoverflies and bumblebees.
The honeyed scented froth of Alchemilla mollis flowers, seem to be enjoyed only by various flies, not bees or bumblebees – another indication that scents which are powerful to our sense of smell don’t necessarily equate to valuable food sources for all insects.
Pyrenean valerian, Valeriana pyrenaica, reaches its peak in early June, and planted en masse is a wonderful flower for many bees and flies. Its only drawback is that the tiny, parachuted dandelion like seeds are produced prolifically, so it’s always a priority for me to cut the flower stalks to the ground and dispose of the the seed heads, as soon as the first few are set.
Native Sea campion, Silene uniflora/maritima, continues to bloom through June and attracts flies, bumblebees and moths. It’s a brilliant plant for growing anywhere in at least 50% sunshine, as above, where it seeds into the sand and lime mix between the stones of our cobbled paths.
A Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma, on Sea campion flowers.
Honeybees also visit Sea campion flowers, so it’s one of those few flowers with wide insect appeal.
Honeysuckle flowers are a magnet, after dark, for many larger moths as well as bumblebees and hoverflies during the day.
Here’s a beautiful Elephant hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, approaching honeysuckle flowers at dusk, with uncoiled proboscis ready to take in some nectar.
Many of the Geraniums in the garden get visited by flies and bumblebees, though few are as popular as G. macrorrhizum and G. phaeum, pictured again below, which begin flowering mainly in May, and G. procurrens which flowers in the autumn.
Another unknown vigorous Geranium cultivar just seems to appeal to honeybees.
The pretty flowers of Geranium sanguineum var. striatum, above, principally attract flies, and not any bees, as indeed do the vibrant flowers of Geranium psilostemon shown below.
Both G. sanguineum and G. psilostemon produce viable seed very prolifically in the garden demonstrating that flies alone can be very successful pollinators.
Geranium macrorrhizum continues to flower well into June, and always attracts lots of honeybees, as well as bumblebees, confirming it as a favoured early season Geranium species.
Geranium phaeum also blooms through to the end of June, and rivals G. macrorrhizum in its appeal to honeybees, smaller bumblebees, and some fly species.
Geranium x magnificum was added to the garden for 2012 as a later flowering, insect friendly hybrid. Although I’ve hacked it about to create larger drifts for next year, the flowers have still been visited by flies, bumblebees and, as you can see below, honeybees. And yet this bee attracting hybrid flower is sterile and doesn’t set seed, it seems.
Another pretty Gelli Geranium seedling, a form of Geranium x oxonianum, which appeals to the garden’s smaller solitary mining bees.
This form of G. x oxonianum f. thurstonianum, with its upright split petals, occasionally gets honeybee visitors, though it’s interesting to see that the bees consistently approach the flower in this unusual way, rather than landing in the open flower.
Erodium manescavii, a Storksbill, looking similar to a Cranesbill, (Geranium) is a favourite flower we grow in free draining areas, and it has a very long flowering period from May onwards, and attracts bumblebees, honeybees, drone flies and some solitary mining bees.Native Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, continues to flower in early June, and often attracts small bumblebees, solitary bees like the Ashy mining bee, A. cineraria above, and occasionally a few honeybees.
The fairly short lived flowers of Iris pseudocarus ‘Variagata’, a variant of the native Yellow flag Iris, gets occasional bumblebee visitors.
As do the lovely short lived blue flowers of Iris sibirica.
Italian Bugloss, Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’, continues flowering through June, and attracted a few flies and bumblebees in its first year in the garden in 2012, but proved to be a very short lived plant here.
An unknown Weigela florida shrub continue to be very popular with bumblebees into June, and also during the day this Large Yellow Underwing moth, Noctua pronuba, one of the commonest garden visiting moths over the summer months.
The June flowering Allium, Nectaroscordum sicculum, is a huge favourite with bumblebees, honeybees and wasps as potential pollinating visitors. In 2014 in the Magic Terrace Garden, it was almost exclusively large wood wasps visiting these flowers.
Many Umbelliferae, like this Parsley plant, are attractive to some bumblebees, flies and hoverflies.
And Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata, continues flowering through June, attracting a great variety of flies.
Aquilegia vulgaris continues to flower through early/mid June, and these are still some of the favourite bumblebee flowers at this time. But occasionally you see other insects on them. In this case a rarely seen a Club-horned sawfly, Trichiosoma sorbi. I suspect a chance sighting, whilst it paused on the flowers.
London Pride, Saxifrage x urbium, finishes flowering in mid-June, and small bumblebees, flies and honeybees love collecting the red pollen from them, particularly if it’s planted in swathes as ground cover, as below.
Kidney Vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, a native wild legume, flowers through June, attracting flies and bumblebees, and growing in the gravel of our yard and banks, in spite of our acid soil.
Broad beans, Vicia faba, flower through June and attract several bumblebee species, some of which have long enough tongues to reach the nectar normally through the flower. After being ‘robbed’ by other smaller bumblebee species, which pierce through the base of the flowers to reach the nectar, the flowers may also be visited by honeybees and flies, which lack tongues long enough to reach the nectar through the normal flower opening.
The common Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is another lovely native biennial flower for mid-June to July which we allow in wilder bits of the garden, and which is a favourite for some bumblebees. But unless you want to be taken over by foxgloves, you do have to dead head some of them, before all those millions of seed are shed, like the Aquilegia vulgaris above, and Welsh poppy, Meconopsis/Papaver cambrica, below.
These are starting to slow down flower production and look a bit tatty by the end of June, but the flowers are still popular with solitary bees, flies, honeybees and some bumblebee species. Yet another great native insect friendly flower.
Several simple, single flowered roses like the climber, Rosa ‘Francis Lester’, are visited by many flies, bumblebees, and honeybees, and gradually become fantastic resources for them, as the plants can grow to a great size over the years.
Fox-and-Cubs, Pilosella aurantiaca, an orange hawkweed which flowers for many months, is popular with bumblebees, honeybees and hover flies, and will grow on dry sunny banks with almost no soil, as well as in our hay meadows.
At its peak of flowering from late May through June, a hay meadow can easily have over 500 flowers open, per square metre, and in addition to Yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, the other 4 species of most interest to bees in June are pink and white clover, Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata and Eyebright, Euphrasia nemorosa, spp, below.
Yellow horned poppy, Flavium glaucum, is a native coastal plant which used to grow in amongst our cobbles and was very popular with hoverflies and bumblebees, but it’s gradually died out, as the vegetation has become denser in these areas.
Astrantia major can bloom for many months and its flowers attract flies like this bumblebee look alike, as well as hoverflies, and occasionally honeybees and bumblebees.
Another Astrantia, and another bumblebee look alike fly.
Cirsium rivulare, is a recent addition to the garden, which we’ve long admired for its thistle flowers, which appeal to bees, and it has relatively benign prickles, compared to many of our native thistles.
Rosa moyesii has become one of our favourite insect friendly flowers. Partly because of its ability to generate bumblebee musical buzz pollination in its flowers (see my post Dragons, Damsels, etc). Partly because I’m intrigued as to how it became hexaploid and whether this has anything to do with its insect appeal, and partly because of the gorgeous hips which form later in the year. I grew our plants from seed. They grow in very poor rock/shale and get better every year. Sadly they don’t have a perfume, but if you can plant one in a sunny spot, I’m sure you’d be delighted over the years with its garden value.
Rosa moyesii flower with hover fly and moth caterpillar.
Rosa moyesii flowers and mating bugs. The larger female appeared to be slowly eating pollen/plant tissue whilst the male clung on.
Native Sticky catchfly, Lychnis viscaria, grows in poor, dry, sunny soil, and flowers for about 6 weeks. It attracts solitary bees, bumblebees and flies, both for its nectar and the sticky secretions on the flower stems. A perennial and easy to grow from seed, it will take 2 years to flower. But slugs really love it.
Honeybee on Sticky catchfly.
A night time image of the annual Phacelia tanecetifolia, often recommended as a green manure, which like other members of the Borage family is a popular flower with many insects if allowed to run to flower. Bumblebees, honeybees, and this moth all visit its many tiny flowers.
Sweet rocket or Dame’s violet, Hesperis matronalis, here in its white form, is a native flower which continues to flower into mid-June with us, and on sunny days attracts butterflies, many flies and occasionally bumblebees.
Although a short lived perennial /biennial, Sweet rocket has the advantage, for a member of the Brassica family, of flowering early in the year for about 6 weeks, and being capable of growing in very poor dry soil. It can act as a sacrificial plant for Large/Small white caterpillars later in the year. All the plants shown in flower on the blog were shredded by these caterpillars last autumn, but recovered to flower profusely this spring/summer. Seed is easy to collect and germinate. Though slugs will take out young seedlings. There are lilac forms as well, but being a colour fussy gardener, I just grow the white form.
Bumblebee on Sweet rocket, Dame’s violet, Hesperis matronalis.
The simple flowers of Cotoneaster dammeri are visited by flies, solitary bees, honeybees and bumblebees.It’s a more benign attractant than the ever popular C. horizontalis, which sends honeybees, wasps and bumblebees into a feeding frenzy for the tiny flowers. For the first time, in June 2021, our single, but now rapidly growing Cornus controversa, below, was not only covered in white blossom in June, but this was hugely popular with honeybees, flies and bumblebees.
I had no idea when we planted it, that firstly it can grow to 50 feet, and secondly that it’s a native of China, Korea, the Himalayas and Japan. Placing it into that select group of plants which not only seems to like our wet upland conditions, but also is probably of particular value as a quality nectar and pollen source.
After years of looking, at last I’ve seen and photographed an insect, here a bumblebee, visiting some of the many candelabra type primula flowers in the garden. They set seed prolifically, and hybridise freely, so what unobserved insect is responsible for the pollination is beyond me. On this occasion, it was a warm sunny day, so I wonder whether nectar release by these flowers is particularly strongly influenced by either temperature, or sunlight? They still can’t rank as being really popular with our Welsh insects, judging by how infrequently you ever see an insect on them.
The flowers of Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’, only seem to appeal to flies in most years, but in warm weather, or a later flowering year such as 2021, will attract lots of bumblebees, honeybees and even the odd exotic insect as well.
Lamium maculatum is another flower that blooms for months on end, and is very popular with a number of bumblebee species.
A really long flowering plant is the perennial Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ wallflower. It’s visited by butterflies, (here a Small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae),
Limnanthes douglasii subsp. nivea ‘Meringue’ is an annual white flowered form of the ‘Poached Egg’ plant. It seems more compact, earlier flowering, more vigorous and slug resistant, and more floriferous than the normal white and yellow form, whilst retaining its appeal for honeybees and flies. And since we’re not that keen on yellow flowers, it will work into our garden colour schemes a bit more easily.
The native perennial Linaria purpurea, has lovely spires of blue/purple flowers with good fly, honeybee and bumblebee appeal.
We’ve gradually been bulking up numbers of Knautia macedonica, from home saved seed, since it’s a useful June to July flowering, tall perennial, which adds height into the terrace garden, and attracts bumblebees and honeybees..
Last updated 06/07/2021