In the winter months we tend to see fewer invertebrates around our parks, gardens and homes. Different invertebrates have different strategies for surviving the winter months.
Some go into a hibernation-like state called diapause, others overwinter as eggs or larvae, and others – particularly those that live in colonies such as bumblebees – have specific ‘designated survivors’ (queens, in the case of bumblebees) who live through the winter to set up new colonies in spring. Some invertebrates, such as the red admiral butterfly don’t fully hibernate but wake up intermittently on warmer days to forage. Others such as the painted lady butterfly migrate en-masse in the autumn making their way to warmer climes.
For those pollinators who are still active during the colder months, sources of food can be difficult to come by. Our winters are warming, which compounds the problem for pollinators as many who would otherwise be hibernating or migrating are staying active throughout winter. Our native flora has yet to catch up with our changing climate, meaning that there are often more pollinators than there are flowers during this season.
To help invertebrates to survive the winter, adding some winter-flowering plants to parks, gardens and window-boxes can make a real difference. The planters installed in Bushy Park cater specifically for winter pollinators. The specially chosen plants offer a range of flowering times to provide nectar and pollen through to the end of spring. Some of the plants you see here, such as the winter aconite and cowslip are British natives. Others originated outside the British Isles, including southern Europe and other countries in the northern hemisphere. These are included in our planting scheme for their winter and early spring flowers that increase food options for pollinators.
Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’
This compact shrub has beautiful, scented flowers that burst into bloom in April. Its long flowering season means it provides for a range of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.
Ajuga reptans 'Atropurpureum' & ‘Rosea’ varieties
Bugle is an excellent groundcover plant that grows in a range of conditions from full sun through to full shade. It spreads by rhizomes to form a mat of attractive bronze-tinted foliage and 15cm flower spikes in spring. The flowers are attractive to a wide range of early pollinators.
The common primrose is a familiar sight in February and March – heralding the beginning of spring. Its flowers are an excellent source of pollen and nectar for bees and other early pollinators, and several species of moth caterpillars feed on the leaves.
Cowslip is a native plant in the primrose family – flowering later in the spring than the common primrose. Its fragrant, funnel-shaped blooms are held aloft on stems and are attractive to bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. The leaves are also a food source for caterpillars.
Helleborus orientalis ‘Red Lady’
Lenten roses are so-called because they produce pretty, nodding, cup-shaped flowers from February to April. The flowers are non-specialised in shape of pollen and nectar-producing parts so can be pollinated by a wide range of insects, but they are particularly useful to early bumblebees and solitary bees when other sources of nectar are scarce.
Harmful if eaten/skin irritant
Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’ & ‘Raspberry Splash’
Lungwort flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, providing a feast for their main pollinators - bumblebees and solitary bees such as the hairy-footed flower bee. The wild form of lungwort produces both blue and red flowers, which is believed to enhance their attractiveness to pollinators from long and short distances respectively.
The name ‘stinking hellebore’ is a bit excessive, referring only to the odour produced when the plant’s foliage is crushed. In fact, the unusual green flowers which appear between January and April give off a pleasant, sweet scent, and early foraging insects such as queen bumblebees will seek them out when they emerge in early spring.
Harmful if eaten/skin irritant
Sweet woodruff is a native woodland plant, which prefers growing in partial shade, such as the dappled shade found under deciduous trees. The clusters of small star-shaped white flowers are pollinated by bees and hoverflies.
Cowslip (Primula veris)
Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Crocus tomasinnianus ‘Ruby Giant’
Some of the earliest crocuses to burst into bloom in late winter, early crocuses provide much needed nectar to sustain queen bumblebees when they emerge to look for a nest site. Until they have found such a nest, queens have been known to sleep inside the cupped flowers overnight!
Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’
Reticulate iris is the first in the iris family to appear each year. It is a diminutive and beautiful plant – only reaching around 15cm high. Its nectar-rich blooms have been cultivated in shades of blue, purple and white – most have a yellow stripe along the central vein, which acts as a signal to pollinating insects.
Sicilian honey garlic
A tall member of the onion family with unusual flower-heads forming a starburst of nodding dusky-pink blooms in late spring or early summer. The flowers appeal to a range of pollinator and are especially attractive to bumblebees.
Snakes head fritillary
A lovely native spring bulb with unusual chequerboard-marked flowers in April and May. When in bud these look very much like snakes popping their heads above the grass. Pollinated mainly by bumblebees.
Snowdrops are the quintessential winter bulb, often coming into flower by midwinter. Not only are they a sight for sore human eyes in the depths of the cold season, they are very much appreciated by winter pollinators such as solitary bees and flies.
Winter aconites are small tuberous perennials in the buttercup family (they even look like giant buttercups!). Coming into flower from mid-January, they are a cheerful addition to the winter garden, and pollinators will love them too.
Mild toxicity if eaten/mild skin irritant
Early crocus (Crocus tomasinnianus)
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
Reticulate iris (Iris reticulata)