Favourite Insect Friendly Flowers and Plants – March

Please read the introductory page in the Real Botany of Desire for the background to why I’m listing the observed insect friendly flowers that bloom during this month, and which seem to be the most popular with the groups of insects which frequent our garden in West Wales. Our favourite 3 insect friendly flowers for the month are: SDIM0072 (2) SDIM1071 (2) SDIM1184 (2) …… Pieris ‘Forest Flame’, Rhododendron racemosum ‘Rock Rose’ and Skimmia  X confusa ‘Kew Green’)……..  in addition to those for February,(Crocus tommasinianus and Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’) which are often still flowering through March …….. If reading my 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, Bumble bees, Hover flies, 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 (P,N), whereas others seem to provide just one of these insect foodstuffs, and I’ll try to include this information with the images. 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 some 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 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. Some of these flowers may well be open in February, but except in a mild year, far fewer insects are active this early in the year. Also 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….. ….. I haven’t found any other images on line of moths in snowdrops, and I hadn’t seen this before 2011, but in the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, I observed this several times. Whether the moths were feeding, or benefiting from a higher temperature within the flower, I don’t know. Researching this issue is what got me started on writing a garden blog… …. Visiting Honeybees also enjoy simple late snowdrop flowers for their bright orange pollen, as do a few flies. In 2013 with an on site hive, visits to snowdrop flowers in sunshine between 11 am and 2.30 pm were frequent. But snowdrop flowers don’t seem to appeal to bumblebees, with only very occasional visits to them in our garden … …. Daphne laureola philippii is the most widely used spring nectar source flower in our garden for moths. A single small bush can attract over 30 moths in mid March. This is a Hebrew Character moth….. …..We only started growing Pulsatilla vulgaris, the native Pasque flower, 2 years ago but it’s proved to be a great attraction to bumblebees, honeybees, flies and even early emerging butterflies. But as yet I haven’t managed to get a clear image with an insect inside the bell like flowers. It looks stunning too…. SDIM8316 (2) … Crocus flowers continue to attract flies, bumblebees and honeybees in March, and are vital first food source for these insects at the beginning of the year.The above C.’Cream Beauty’ is not as generous with pollen as the following flower … … Crocus tommasinianus is our preferred Crocus species, for both naturally seeding around and also its appeal to early Bumblebee queens, just emerged from hibernation in time to catch these blooms, and now also honeybees from 2013, since we have a hive nearby. It produces HUGE amounts of pollen … SDIM8497 (2) SDIM8345 (2) … For 2013 the real discovery has been how attractive the permanently open, and very cold tolerant early flowers of Scilla mischtschenkoana (S.tubergeniana) are to honeybees. They have almost been their favoured early season flower, with abundant pale pollen. I’m hoping that I’ll now be able to save some seed, after failing with hand pollination during the previous 2 years that we’ve grown them … Common Quaker Moth in Helleborus hybridus flower 14/03/10. …. Helleborus hybridus flowers are visited by honeybees, bumblebees and even moths from February to April ….. …. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ is attractive to Bumblebees, and early butterflies, but  not it seems moths or Honeybees…. …..Emerged Queen Bumble bee, Bombus terrestris, on Daphne Bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’. N…… …. A number of early Pieris and Rhododendron cultivars are visited by Bumblebees…. ….In 2012, P.’ Forest Flame’ which is now a 15 year old maturing bush was literally humming with over 30 bumblebee queens visiting at the same time….. ….It’s also pretty popular as a nectar source with flies, and at its peak has a wonderful honey like scent…… ….. For the first time in 2012, I saw moths visiting Pieris flowers. This is a Common Quaker moth feeding, but if you look closely you’ll notice that it’s feeding as a secondary nectar robber through the puncture wound made at the flower’s base by a previous visit from a Bumblebee. After seeing this for the first time when the image was being cropped on screen, I checked the Pieris flowers in detail during daylight and most flowers showed signs of being attacked in this way. For a good 10 day period in 2012, our large Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ bush was THE flower for Bumblebees in our garden….. ….. Rhododendron racemosum ‘Rock Rose’ seems particularly appealing to Honeybees, Bumblebees and even this early Small Tortoiseshell butterfly…… …… Even queen wasps seemed to be attracted to the R.racemosum flowers in 2012….. ……In the greeenhouse, the early and pretty Nectarine ‘Lord Napier’ flowers need a helping pollinating hand since only a few flies are in the greenhouse this early in the year…… ……And this is the blossom of a greenhouse grown ‘Tomcot’ apricot flower. Earlier to bloom even than the nectarine, again I hand pollinate with an artist’s brush to be certain of fruit set. Commercially this green bottle fly is valued for its pollinating role and the Dutch firm ‘Koppert’, which specialises in such matters for commercial growers, can supply you with 30,000 of these….as 1 kg of pupae…….! So don’t exclude the humble fly from your list of perceived valuable garden insects….. ….. Overnight refuge for a Queen Wasp inside a Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ flower … ……Having talked to lots of people about how Narcissi (Daffodils) cultivars have little appeal for any garden insects, at last we’ve grown one which seems to break this rule. The short and stocky, but really vigorous and garden worthy N.’Topolino’ attracts Bumblebees, flies and butterflies as a nectar and pollen source. As a result it sets huge quantities of fertile seeds. Most daffodils produce very few seeds…. …. A pristine recently emerged Peacock butterfly nectaring on N.’Topolino’, an old variety bred way back in the 1920’s…. …. Several early fly species also visit N.’Topolino’. It seems to produce some attractive secretions from outside the trumpet as well as inside…. SDIM8577 (2) … And with an on site hive, in 2013 we’ve also had honeybee visits to the species daffodil, Narcissus obvallaris, principally for pollen. This is another daffodil which does set seed quite well …   ….This seems to be the best early Bumblebee nectar source, (Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’) in our garden athough most of this year’s photos of it are on video, which don’t show the stunning blue colour as well as this still image without bees! It can flower from even January right through to April, and as well as Bumblebees, Bee flies seem to value it’s nectar, but we haven’t seen Honeybees visit it in our garden yet. I’ve never seen a moth on its’ flowers either.Yet! We grow other cultivars of Pulmonaria, but none flower for as long as this one, or seem to attract Bumblebees in the same way….. ……A recently emerged Bumblebee working the Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ flowers. They move remarkably efficiently at speed, working all the flowers with barely a couple of seconds spent on each individual bloom. Like many bumblebees, this one is carrying a few non parasitic pale mites on its thorax, just in front of the yellow band. These seem to carry out general cleaning tasks on the bee and in its colony…… ….. As I get more usable pictures of distinct Bumblebee species I’ll include them. This recently emerged Queen is Bombus pratorum. The yellow bands on the thorax and abdomen, with the ginger band on the tail being identification features. One of the earliest species to emerge, and a common UK garden visitor….. SDIM8471 (2) ….. Lesser Celandine flowers continue to interest both flies, bumblebees and honeybees throughout March, even if gardeners consider them a nuisance weed….. N, P ….. ….. We have masses of Primrose/Oxlip type flowers throughout the garden, and they seed around quite well. But 2012 was the first time I saw a bumblebee visit a clump in any meaningful way, and to date I’ve no images with insects on the flowers….. so pretty in the garden, but perhaps not that highly regarded by our native Welsh insects….. …… Shortly after uploading the previous image, and making the rash comments about few insect visitors, I managed a couple of pictures of different flies visiting primrose flowers. It reminds me that an observation based record like this is fraught with issues if one is too dogmatic. Nevertheless, given the number of these flowers in our garden, the insect hit rate is very low compared to other flowers listed here….. ….. This fly was definitely probing the flower for sustenance, unlike the previous, passive posture image. Another of those commercially valuable pollinating green bottles, I think… ….. Anemone blanda is one of several groups of early, low growing flowering plants which only seem to get occasional visits from flies, and no other insect groups.(Scilla, Puschkinia, Hepatica nobilis are others). Again I can change this advice for 2013 !! – if you have a honeybee hive close enough, they too will readily visit these flowers …   SDIM8328 (2) But perhaps without a hive close enough, it might be worthwhile hand pollinating to get good seed set? Anemone nemorosa, our native wood anemone, does get occasional bumblebee visits, but it doesn’t seem to be a preferred flower…. ….. I acquired 4 different forms of Lamium maculata, from Fiona’s mother’s garden in mid 2011. It’s clear by spring 2012 that they vary hugely in vigour, floriferousness, and appeal to bumblebees. This variety L.m.’Chequers’ wins hands down on bumblebee appeal. Though is this simply because there is a greater number and concentration of flowers in a small area, and hence it’s easier for bees to gain nectar from them efficiently? Or is it that individual flowers actually produce more, or more appealing nectar? ….. We grow masses of White Honesty, Lunaria annua var. albiflora, which in 2012 was blooming towards the end of March. It’s got real appeal for many insects….flies, bumblebees and butterflies all visit it’s flowers. It is a biennial, but once established in a garden will seed around easily without taking over. It also seems to be a plant which with us is sacrificially preferred by rabbits. Finally the early Orange-tip Butterfly can use it as a larval food plant. Why don’t we grow the common purple flowered form? Well we prefer the white! …. …… Peacock Butterfly on White Honesty flowers. Unusually, spring 2012 saw a number of Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells around in the garden at the end of March. This was their preferred nectar source flower in the garden. Perhaps part of their appeal this year was that a large new area of Honesty plants came into bloom, in the sun and in a relatively sheltered part of the garden….. …… The ubiquitous dandelion, cursed by most gardeners, is a hugely successful native wildflower. Why? Well in part I guess because it flowers over a very long season, appeals to a wide range of flies, butterflies and bumblebees, partly in consequence sets huge quantities of seed which has a great mechanism for widespread dispersal, and once rooted, will regrow from the tiniest fragment. N,P Perhaps every garden should cherish a few…… …… Violets – native wild, and Labradorean Violets flower well in many shady areas under mature trees in the garden, as well as in full sun. They’re visited by many insects, including bees, flies and butterflies but these don’t tend to spend long per flower, so I’ve not had much success photographically yet…. but this camcorder capture shows a Bee Fly to the right, and a solitary Mining bee to the left. 31/03/12 N, P….. ……Many Brassicas start to flower in late March if allowed to, and the bright yellow flowers like these of Red Russian Kale are visited by many flies, bees and bumblebees for nectar and pollen. We’ve now decided to just grow Red Russian Kale, in favour of conventional early purple sprouting broccoli, since we find it a more reliable crop up here, and the shoots (before they’re allowed to flower like this one) are just as tasty as purple sprouting broccoli…

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Last updated 10/06/2014

2 thoughts on “Favourite Insect Friendly Flowers and Plants – March

  1. Lovely post, I liked the photos of moths feeding. I tend to forget about these! My native primroses are buzzing with Anthophora plumipes in the spring, the nectar might bee too deep for other short tongue species to access.

    • Hello AG, Glad you liked the post, and thanks for the comment about the Hairy footed Flower bees, Anthophora. I may well have misidentified these as early bumblebee species in the past. (A real lack of knowledge on my part!). So I’ll look out for them in the future, but I notice that they don’t yet seem to have been recorded in our neck of the woods, according to the data sheet/distribution map which I found for them on line.It is interesting that we have loads of primroses in our garden, and nearly all our early insects go for the Pulmonaria flowers in preference to primroses, BW,Julian

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