Pollinators and their Importance

When people think of pollinators, they generally think of bees, but pollinators can also be butterflies, moths, hoverflies and many other species.  Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in our ecosystems. 

Gardens and wildflower meadows offer some of the most important habitats for the wide variety of bees and other pollinators found in the UK and it has never been more important than now, to help save our bees! 

Pollinators

The job of a pollinator is to move pollen from the male part of the flower (the stamen), to the female part of the flower (the stigma).  The pollen then goes down the stigma into the ovule to fertilize the seeds.  Fertilization needs to take place for fruit and seeds to be produced, otherwise the plants cannot reproduce.

Some plants can self pollinate, so therefore don’t require pollinators to do this job.  Most though, are cross pollinated, so require pollinators to transfer pollen from one flower to another.

Here is some information on two of most well known pollinators.

 

Bees 

Bees don’t just provide us with honey!  They make a massive contribution to much of the food we eat.  Without bees working their magic on pollinating our food crops, it would require our great British farmers to pollinate the crops, costing up to a whopping £1.8 billion a year!  This would then lead to a significant rise in our food prices.

Bees are in decline…

Sadly, many of our beloved bee species are in decline.  Having lost 13 bee species in the UK to extinction since 1900, it is worrying to learn there may be as much as 35 more that are under threat from the same fate!  Since 1900, many things have changed, from agricultural practices to pesticide use, habitat loss to climate change and also the introduction of invasive animal and plant species that are not native to the UK.  Farmers also spray crops with a variety of products designed to protect from pests, but it is believed that a number of these are causing a decline bees.

There are an estimated 20,000 species of bee worldwide, with approximately 270 different species found in Britain.

Below are some examples:

 

Honeybee

  • There are over 300 species of bee in the UK.
  • Is a social bee that forms large colonies overwinter.
  • Colony may contain 60,000 bees. 

Solitary Bee

  • There are 260 species including: Andrena, Osmia, Megachile and Lasioglossum. 
  • Females of solitary bees constructs and provisions a nest on their own. 
  • Will often nest close to one another. 

Bumblebee

  • Is a social bee.
  • Nests die out in late Summer or early Autumn. 
  • There are 24 species of bumblebees in Britain but only 12 species are commonly seen in gardens. 
  • A nest may contain 200 bees.

Everyone can help the bees what ever your size of garden!

When planning your plants, the ideal scenario for bees, would be for flowers to be around for most of the year.  Bees require a food source of nectar from early spring until early winter.

Spring
Apple blossom is loved by bees and with dwarf fruit trees now available that can be grown in pots, they can be enjoyed by you and and the bees, whatever your size of garden.  Bees also love bluebells and crocuses!  When out walking, look out for the emergence of the beautiful cowslip which is loved especially by the Garden Bumblebee and the Hairy Footed Flower Bee! 

Summer
Lavender is loved by bees, especially Bumblebees, Leafcutter Bees and Mason Bees.  When lavender is in flower in summer, it is a ‘hive’ (pardon the pun!) of activity for hungry bees!  When out walking, look out for a vibrant wildflower that is a favourite for bees…Phacelia.  Not only are the sweetly scented purple blooms extremely attractive to bees, this species is also known as a green manure, which boosts soil fertility.  For more information on green manures, see HERE.

Autumn
The sweetly scented honeysuckle is a climber so is great for training up walls if space is a problem.  It is loved by bees, especially the Carder Bumblebee and is also a enjoyed by many moth species late evening.  When out walking, look out for white clover which is still showing its pretty white to pinkish flower heads into October.  These are loved by many kinds of bumblebees. 

Winter
Snowdrops are pollen rich and are a perfect food source for bumblebees and honeybees.  When out walking, look out for Lesser Celandine, which flowers from January until April and supplies an essential nectar source for bumblebees and other pollinators coming out of hibernation.

Bees or Hoverflies?

Hoverflies are also garden pollinators and due to their appearance, can be mistaken for bees and wasps, but they are actually flies.  Hoverflies don’t sting and bees and wasps do.  This is a great example of Batesian Mimicry.  Batesian Mimicry is where a harmless animal or plant looks very similar to a harmful one as a form of defence and to warn off predators. 

Also known as the Syrphid Fly, Flower Fly or Drone Fly, there are approximately 250 species of hoverfly in Britain and they are often seen in gardens in spring, summer and autumn where they will be feasting on pollen and nectar.  The larvae of many species of hoverfly are great at eating aphids and other garden pests, so they are a useful and beneficial addition in the garden.

They vary is size from 10-25mm in length, depending on species.

Examples of flowers loved by hoverflies are Oriental Poppy, French Marigolds, Wild Carrot, Knapweed, Marsh Marigold and Fennel.  


No garden?  No problem!

If garden space is limited or you have no garden, pots, window boxes or hanging baskets can still help the bees!  Why not try flowering herbs like thyme, sage, chives or marjoram in pots or even strawberries in hanging baskets!

 

Butterflies 

Butterflies are the second largest pollinator, after bees. Whilst the caterpillar eats leaves, the adult generally feeds from the nectar of flowers. There are 59 butterfly species in Britain, these are partial to different wildflowers and plants, whether at the larval stage or as an adult. The following list is a sample of the plants and wildflowers favoured by certain caterpillars and butterflies: 

 

Acmon Blue – Buckwheat, lupines, milkvetch 
American Painted Lady – Cudweed, everlast 
Bairds Swallowtail – Dragon Sagebrush 
Black Swallowtail – Parsley, dill, fennel, common rue 
Coral Hairstreak – Wild black cherry, American and Chickasaw plum, black chokeberry 
Dun Skipper – Sedges, grasses including purpletop 
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Wild black cherry, ash, tulip tree, willow, sweetbay, basswood
Giant Swallowtail – Prickly ash, citrus, common rue, hoptree, gas plant, torchwood
Gray Comma – Gooseberry, azalea, elm
Great Purple Hairstreak – Mistletoe
Gulf Fritillary – Maypops, other passion vines
Henrys Elfin – Redbud, dahoon and yaupon hollies, maple leaved viburnum, blueberries
Monarch – milkweeds
Painted Lady Cosmopolite – Thistles, mallows, nievitas, yellow fiddleneck
Pygmy Blue – Saltbush, lambs quarters, pigweed
Red Admiral/White Admiral – Wild cherries, black oats, aspens, yellow and black birch
Silver Spotted Skipper – locusts, wisteria, other legumes
Spicebush Swallowtail – Sassafras, spicebush
Sulphurs – Clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
Variegated Fritillary – Passion flower, maypop, violets, stonecrop, purslane

The increasing popularity in wildflowers is great news for our pollinators! 

Wildflowers are a beautiful sight whether it be in the garden, countryside or brightening up an urban space.  They can even be found as a ‘green roof’ feature on eco homes!  Thanks to the increase in media coverage regarding climate change, decrease in the numbers of pollinators and also the beauty of our wildflowers, their popularity is growing, which is great news for our pollinators! 

Wildflowers are loved by bees and other pollinators alike and provide a great display with very little input.  We provide a number of wildflower mixtures designed specifically for attracting various different species of pollinators, including:

Butterfly and Bee
ATG Flora 12 – Wildflower Butterfly Mix
ATG Flora 13 – Herbal Bee, Butterfly, Hoverfly and Bird Mix
ATG Flora 14 – Spring Moth Mix
ATG Flora 15 – Late Summer Moth Mix

For more information on the above mixtures and the rest of our standard wildflower range, please see HERE

We also supply wildflower display boxes for retailers, containing a variety of native and non native single species packets.  For more information on these, please see HERE

Bees and other pollinators don’t just love wildflowers, they love grasses too.  We offer a great grass mix for them too.

Bee Grass Mix
70% Cocksfoot
30% Meadow Foxtail 

Both grass species have great benefits for bees, caterpillars, insects and birds.  Many British solitary and mining bee species nest in the ground, so this provides great cover.

Cocksfoot is enjoyed by many caterpillars including that of the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies.  Pollen from this grass species is also a magnet for honeybees and the seeds are loved by finches and gamebirds.  Cocksfoot has the added benefit of being drought tolerant once established, due to its dense growth habit and deeper root system.

Meadow Foxtail provides a valuable food source for the caterpillars, especially that of the Essex Skipper butterfly.

All in all, a fantastic mix for our pollinators, without the inclusion of wildflowers.

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