Powerhouse Plant For All Seasons - Kolkwitzia Dreamcatcher
Choosing the best delphinums

Native or non-native: which plants are best for insects?

Shrubby hare’s ear, Bupleurum fruticosum, is a top plant for hoverflies (André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) ‘CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)’, via Wikimedia Commons)
When, a couple of years ago, I wrote about non-native plants often being better for wildlife than native plants it prompted a lot of comments, for and against, and also private emails – mostly against, including some that were unexpectedly unpleasant.

Undeterred, I bring news of an article by Dr Ken Thompson in Britain’s Which? Gardening magazine, published by the impartial, non-profit Consumers’ Association (similar to Consumer Reports in the US) which says the same thing: “Recent research shows that non-native plants can be just as attractive to wildlife as native ones – if not more so.”

Ken Thompson, of the University of Sheffield, is a biologist with a special interest in the science of gardening. He’s examined recent research at the Social Insects Lab at the University of Sussex, and at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plants for Bugs project and reports that “pollinating insects have no clear preference for the flowers of native plants”.

So we gardeners can rest easy. If we’re looking to attract insects and other wildlife to our gardens, garden plants are often better than native plants. And there seems to be no argument that, especially in densely populated areas, gardens make crucial contributions to the success of so many birds and insects

Borage, Borago officinalis, is the ultimate honeybee plant. Image So what to grow? To attract pollinators, Ken Thompson recommends these four plants:
Borage - “The ultimate honeybee plant” (left, click to enlarge)
Buddleia – “For butterflies, you still can’t beat buddleia, which is also used as a larval food plant by at least 19 different moths”. [Note: Buddleia is invasive in some parts of the USA, where only varieties that do not produce seed should be planted.]
Catmint – For bumblebees “for sheer attractiveness over a very long flowering season”
Shrubby hare’s ear (Bupleurum fruticosum) – For hoverflies, “a plant you’ve almost certainly never heard of”. (top)

So these are the first plants to try. And the number of hoverflies you’ll find on that bupleurum is amazing.

Ken Thompson’s article Native vs non-native plants: which are best for wildlife? appears in the June 2013 issue of Which? Gardening magazine. It is not available online.

You can subscribe to Which? Gardening here

You can check out books by Ken Thompson on amazon.co.uk

You can check out books by Ken Thompson on amazon.com