Thursday, 14 February 2013

Early spring flowers for pollinators

Finally, after a long wait, the first spring flowers are showing their heads in our gardens, parks and other green spaces. It is such a delight to see all the crocuses, snowdrops and winter aconites brightening up dull winter days. If the weather stays mild emerging bumblebee queens, honeybees and early solitary bees will all take advantage of the early spring flowers and will forage for much needed nectar and pollen.

One of the earliest crocuses is Tommasini's crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) which is easy to naturalise in lawns and under deciduous trees as it self-seeds readily. It is also more shade-tolerant than most of the other crocus species. Early bees like to visit the flowers on mild days.

There are also many other crocuses which flower early and are loved particularly by emerging bumblebee queens as you can see below. Bumblebee queens are often starving after their long hibernation (some of them were asleep since last summer) and need all the nectar they can get. So finding a big patch of crocus flowers in a sunny corner of a garden will help a lot.


Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) with their bright yellow flowers can cheer up any dull winter day. The plant likes humus-rich alkaline soil that does not dry out in summer and is best planted under deciduous trees were it will naturalise if conditions are suitable. In some beech woodlands in Germany I have seen winter aconites in such great numbers that the woodland floor seemed to be covered with a yellow carpet. It is best to plant the tubers "in the green" in spring (actively growing with leaves and all) as winter aconites do not establish well if planted as dry tubers  in autumn. Bees like the flowers and you may see them visiting on mild days.


Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are out now as well and can even push their way through frozen soil as they have hardened leave tips. Snowdrops mainly spread by bulb division and do not depend on pollinators as they often flower so early in the year that there is not much flying around. But if we happen to have some mild days pollinators will still visit the flowers for nectar and pollen. Plant the bulbs in spring "in the green" as dry bulbs planted in autumn will often fail to establish. If planted in a sunny place the flowers tend to produce more nectar and pollen than if planted in the shade.

A little fly is visiting these snowdrops

The cheery yellow flowers of daffodils (Narcissus spp.) will soon start to flower, rocking on tall stems in a light breeze. The flowers look nice to us but it is a shame that many are not of much use for pollinators as most daffodils commonly sold in garden centers are highly bred and have lost their pollen-attracting features. You can plant the wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) instead which is pollinated by bumblebees. The bulbs are best planted under trees or in grass so they can naturalise. Wild daffodils like moist ground with rich soil.

Wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are good for bumblebees

Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)
And last but not least, lenten rose ( Helleborus orientalis) is in flower as well and cheers us up with saucer-shaped, often spotted blooms in various colours from white and green to pink. They are best planted under deciduous trees  and prefer a heavy neutral to alkaline soil. The plants are slow to establish and don`t like disturbance, so best to leave them alone once planted. They are a good food source for early bees. Also try out christmas rose (Helleborus niger) with pure white flowers but which is a bit more difficult to grow than lenten rose.

Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

Look out for early spring flowers on mild and sunny days and if you are lucky you may even see some hungry pollinators foraging for pollen and nectar.

For even more early spring flowers have a look at my follow-up blog post "More early spring flowers for pollinators".

If you are after pollinator-friendly flowers for spring and early summer have a look here. For winter and late winter flowers look here.

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