Posts tagged ‘Painted Ladies’

August 9, 2013

Do bees and butterflies like onions?

9 August 2013

There are quite a few ornamental plants in the onion family which attract bees and butterflies, usually called alliums. These come mainly in shades of pink, purple and white, and with a range of flower head sizes. The attraction for insects is that there are a large number of flowers all together in one flower head, meaning they don’t have to travel far to find the next sip of nectar.

The one I’ve got out at the moment – it’s going over, but still attracting the bees – is one known by several common names, including round-headed leek, round-headed garlic, and ball-head onion, but it’s Latin name is allium sphaerocephalon. It is  useful for being later flowering than most, and is cheap to buy and easy to grow. I’ve seen a Peacock butterfly on it a few times recently, but it is mainly drawing the bees.

Bees on allium sphaerocephalon.

Bees on allium sphaerocephalon.

I think the pair on the left are white-tailed bumblebees. There are two different bees on the allium in the right-hand photo; the one at the top look like a red-tailed bumblebee; the other one is something else! Either a honey bee or a solitary bee, I guess – do send me a comment if you can identify it.

Most alliums are out a bit early in the year for there to be a large number of butterflies around, but back in 2009 we had a large influx of Painted Ladies in May.

Painted Ladies on alliums

Painted Ladies on alliums

The one on the left is on allium christophii (I think!) – they have huge flower heads, especially in relation to their height, which is only around 12″ (30cm); actually, I think they are a bit out of proportion and I won’t plant any more, but they do make very impressive seedheads. The butterfly wasn’t complaining, anyway: it spent ages working its way across and round this head of flowers. The Painted Lady on the right is on an allium you might well have in the garden: allium schoenoprasum, better known as chives. If you look at the two photos, the only real difference between the flowers is how many there are on the head and how open the petals are, other than that, you can easily see they are related.

So my answer to the question in the title of this post: “Do bees and butterflies like onions?” seems to be yes! But one question for the bee keepers among you: does nectaring on alliums produce onion-flavoured honey? Don’t think I’d fancy that on my toast.

February 5, 2013

Gardening season started

5 February 2013

The gardening season is getting underway, even if the butterfly season isn’t – though a number of Painted Ladies have been seen in my area, none have come into my view (sulk!)

Painted Lady butterfly on chives - May 2009

Painted Lady on chives – May 2009

I know the gardening season has started, because I’ve got antirrhinums (snapdragons),  sown about a week ago, coming up in the greenhouse, together with a grass called ‘Frosted Explosion” – I just hope that name doesn’t indicate the summer weather to come!

Both of these annual plants are destined for the part of my garden I keep for plants which only live for one year, so I can play around with different colour schemes and types of plant. I have had two real successes: one year when I used nicotiana and cosmos, which (more by luck than judgement) blended supremely well, and the other was a year when I grew every variety of single-flowered French marigold I could find, from 8 inches tall to 3 feet tall, and mingled them with bright blue cornflowers – one visitor described it  as “vibrant”. The other years varied from OK to “we won’t talk about them”.

I garden to cater for wildlife, including butterflies and moths, so at least one of the annuals each year will be good for these insects. Nicotiana is night-scented, which shows that it is visited and pollinated by moths, while cosmos has the open sort of flower that is good for butterflies, though I wouldn’t say it’s a top favourite. French marigolds do attract butterflies, especially Small Tortoiseshells, and cornflowers are visited by the butterflies such as Small and Large Whites

Small Tortoiseshell on French Marigold

Small Tortoiseshell on French Marigold

This year’s display is planned to be rudbeckia ‘Prarie Sun’, another open flower, mingled with creamy snapdragons (good for bees). Then a lower front layer of ‘Frosted Explosion’ grass plus lemon-coloured marigolds (calendulas), which I hope will attract various insects. Of course, that’s the plan, what will turn out in reality remains to be seen – come back to find out.