Friday, 1 August 2014

Of beasties and blooms

Back at the end of May, I did the Garden Bioblitz, in which people all over the country recorded the wild flowers and creatures in their gardens. Since then, I have been recording and photographing some of the mini-beasts that visit our patch.  Browsing through my photographs, it has become obvious that some flowers are very popular with all sorts of insects and other tiny creatures.  Below, I have listed the plants that appeared most often in my identification photos for July.

Fennel with common red soldier beetles.
Top of the chart with number 1, fennel is the most popular plant with visiting insects.  On a sunny day, it is covered in hoverflies, beetles and wasps. On the other hand, bees barely seem to visit it at all. For most of July, it has been popular with Common Red Soldier beetles. A Guardian column tells us that their modern common name is "Hogweed bonking beetle." Like hogweed, fennel is an umbellifer, with thousands of tiny flowers for the insects to sup from. With up to 16 insects on the yellow flowers at any one time, maybe we should rename the insect to "Fennel frolicking beetle."

Drone fly on marjoram.
In second place, Marjoram is popular with all sorts of insects. In particular honey bees and their mimics having been buzzing around this plant for months.  Until I started looking at the 'bees' more carefully for my records, I assumed that they were all honey bees. Instead I find that about half of them are flies, mostly hoverflies.

Leaf-cutter bee, on a teasel flower.
In third place, teasel, which attracts an enormous variety of bees. The bee shown is a leaf cutter bee - and I've found an enchanter's nightshade with carefully worked holes in its leaves showing that the bee I photographed, or one like it, made a nest here.
Small Tortoiseshell taken shortly before the end of June.
In fourth position, verbena bonariensis. This, tall gawky plant is a real hit with butterflies. Many have posed for me on its flowers.
Harvestman on our Sunshine dahlia
Finally, in fifth place we have our dahlia, which is enjoyed by a variety of mini-beasts including delicate harvestmen. The remarkable thing about this flower is that it managed to come fifth in spite of there being only one plant.
Given that I have carefully planted and nurtured many wild flowers in the garden, I was surprised that only one of the top five, the teasel, was a native plant. The others are all cultivated varieties, or of foreign extraction. However we have chosen the cultivated plants for their colour over a long period, so maybe they have a staying power that our natives have not. My belief is that native species are important in the early parts of creatures' lives when they have precise food requirements. Later, any nectar will do.  The other surprise was that the traditional butterfly plant, the buddleia, had barely any visitors. It seems that our butterflies prefer the verbena bonariensis.  
So, just a couple of months on from the bioblitz, I am learning more about the insects that visit our garden and their relationship with our plants.


No comments:

Post a Comment