We’re into December now and fast approaching my favourite time of the year. Crisp, clear mornings, branches decorated with frost. The characteristic ‘clack’ of fieldfares as they fly overhead and the quiet grumbling as the search continues for the windscreen scraper that was put in a safe place over the summer, I always find the winter quite magical. Oddly, not everyone (or everything) shares this opinion and as temperatures drop, so to do the numbers of insects that we see around the estuary.
Whilst some insects will migrate to warmer climes, many of our insect species will hibernate over the colder months finding security and warmth in log piles, stone walls, piles of dead leaves and garden sheds. Interestingly, many insect species will not hibernate as adults instead lying dormant in early life stages such as in eggs or as larvae. Those species who do hibernate as adults (including some butterfly species) can sometimes be tricked by unseasonably warm days and will wake up and try to find food, this is where the topic of this week’s blog comes in. Enter… the winter flowering plants.
When I think of winter flowers my mind goes straight toward the humble snowdrop, delicate nodding white flowers on a sage-y green stem. Not only do these cheery little plants look great, they are also an important early food source for any insects that might wake up on a particularly warm winter’s day. Often used in planting schemes along with daffodils our roadside verges and roundabouts can act as important feeding sites for any insect woken up by a sunny spell.
There are however many other winter flowering plants out there that are either naturally occurring or ornamental varieties that we can plant in our outside spaces that can give any early risers a much needed meal. Christmas roses (Hellebore species), winter flowering honeysuckles (Locinera fragrantissim) and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are some of my particular favourites. The witch hazels (Hamamelis sps) with their peculiar spider like yellow flowers and spicy scents are another great winter flowering species for those with slightly larger gardens. These quiet, unsung heroes of the winter perform an important role, standing in before the first flowers of spring appear. It’s important to note though that some of the more fancy cultivars such as those that have double layers of petals or have extremely modified flower shapes may not be ideal for nectar feeding species. If you are looking at providing winter flowering plants for insects it’s best to keep to more natural varieties.
If you would like more information on winter flowering plants that are beneficial for insects the Royal Horticultural Society have produced a great article that goes into more detail about what you can plant (and the best way to look after them), there is a link to this article at the end of this blog.
Next week we’ll be talking about our preparations for the upcoming year and how we at the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust will be engaging with the community during 2023. We have lots of exciting events planned for you to come along and join. We hope you all have a great week and remember to post any photographs of winter flowering plants you may take on our social media for us all to enjoy.
Andy – MGET Biodiversity Manager