At Henbant we keep many pollinator friendly plants around to help attract the wildlife that carry pollen, such as bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and moths. Here I talk a little bit about ‘the birds and the bees’ and focus on 5 pollinator-friendly plants – globe artichoke, sunflowers, butterfly bush, honeysuckle and buttercups.
Why are pollinator-friendly plants important?
Let’s talk about sex
A flowering plant reproduces sexually, so it needs genetic material (pollen) from the male sex organ (stamen) to move to the female sex organ (pistal). Some plants can self-pollinate, so its own pollen fertilises its own egg (the ovule found in the pistal). Other plants cross-pollinate, so they need animals or wind to carry pollen from one plant to fertilise the ovule of a different plant.
90% of flowering plants rely on pollinators for pollination 1 . A pollinator is any animal that carries pollen from plant to plant on their bodies. In the UK that mainly means insects but in tropical regions birds and bats also play an important role.
If we increase the type of plants that attract pollinators, we increase the likelihood of all the other plants being pollinated too. So it’s really useful to grow pollinator-friendly plants amongst your crops, because if your tomato flower doesn’t get fertilised it will never turn into a tomato! And if your sunflower doesn’t get fertilised, you won’t get any seeds for your birds to munch on. You get the idea…
It’s worth mentioning that some plants can reproduce asexually – producing ‘clones’ which are genetically identical to their parent plant. Garlic, for example, grow new bulbs from the parent bulb. You’ll find these plants in climates that don’t support pollinating animals very well. Plants are pretty smart like that.
Anyway, here are a few plants I’ve seen at Henbant that do support pollinators well.
About globe artichoke
Botanical name: Cynara scolymus.
Availability: June – September.
Life cycle: Perennial.
How do globe artichokes help pollinators?
Globe artichokes are in the thistle family and develop a very large edible bud that we can eat. But if we resist and allow the bud to blossom it will reveal a blue-violet flower. This acts as a landing pad of nectar and pollen for bumblebees (long and short tongued), honey bees, solitary bees and butterflies.
Globe artichokes also have the added bonus of being a perennial. To discover more read 5 prevalent perennials at Henbant.
About common sunflowers
Botanical name: Helianthus annuus.
Life cycle: fast-growing annual.
How do sunflowers help pollinators?
The dark central spiral of a sunflower is packed with hundreds of small tubular flowers filled with nectar and pollen for bees and hoverflies. Long-tongues bees help to fertilise the small flowers and create seed for us to munch on ourselves, share with finches or keep to sow the following year.
About butterfly bush
Botanical name: Buddleja davidii.
Availability: summer and autumn.
Life cycle: evergreen or deciduous shrub.
How does butterfly bush help pollinators?
The clue is in the name! The multiple long panicles of small, tubular flowers attract bees, butterflies, moths and even humming birds in some countries. The buddleja is a favourite with pollinators because it produces nectar that has a higher content of sucrose, glucose and fructose than many other garden flowers 2 .
Botanical name: Lonicera.
Availability: summer – winter depending on the variety.
Life cycle: evergreen or deciduous shrub.
How does honeysuckle help pollinators?
On warm summer evenings the sweet smell of honeysuckle draws in any nearby moths. During the day it also provides nectar for bumblebees and butterflies. The white admiral, which is in decline, specifically relies of honeysuckle 3 , so there’s extra conservation brownie points if you get this climber in your garden!
About creeping buttercup
Botanical name: Ranunculus repens.
Availability: spring – summer.
Life cycle: perennial.
How do buttercups help pollinators?
The bright yellow bowl-shaped flowers attract flies, beetles and bees, including honeybees. Their open faces are especially inviting to crawling insects and short-tongued bees. The flowers act as heat concentrators, so pollinators are even more drawn to them.
Did you know that the shiny gloss and reflectivity of a buttercup petal is due to a double layer of air just beneath the surface 4 ? Now you know why your chin turns yellow when you hold a buttercup underneath it!