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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Weeds for wildlife

There are many plants which are extremely beneficial to wildlife but the following that I am listing are purely those which I have growing here and which although are classed as 'weeds' by some, are allowed to grow here (in the right place that is!) for the very reason that they support many species which I wish to encourage. There is a wealth of information on the internet on all these plants, and more, and as I am no expert I can't begin to list all the species which benefit from these plants. I'm just writing about what I have noted over the years from my observations of what is going on around me, with extra knowledge gained from books, the internet and the telly!

Ragwort and Groundsel
There are arguments both for and against both of these wild plants, but I leave some of it to grow here predominantly as a foodstuff for the Cinnabar Moth caterpillar. I've read this moth is in decline in the UK - I don't know about France but going by the amount of ragwort around on the edges of cultivated fields or even in hay and grazing fields (neither farmers nor French horse owners seem to care about it!), I don't think they are going short of food here. Perhaps that's why I see this pretty daytime flying moth during the summer months but I like to encourage it and I have no livestock to worry about so ragwort gets the go ahead at Chateau Moorhen, and I don't hurry to weed out groundsel the moment I see it either.

Stinging Nettles
As well as its culinary purposes (actually I've never tried it and don't really feel intrigued enough to) and as a nitrogen rich fertiliser, it is the foodstuff of the caterpillars of Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I have the first three in this garden in abundance. I have read that nettles are also a sign of a nutrient rich soil; in that case my soil must be very good!

Various Grasses
OK not exactly a weed as such, but we tend to mow it rather than leave it to just grow wild (although a mown lawn will still provide grubs and insects for birds unless you have some kind of perfect bowling green replica). I am clueless when it comes to grass and can't tell what kind is what but I do know that there are many species of butterfly caterpillars such as the Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Marbled White, all of which we have here, which both feed and pupate in various grasses so plenty of clumps of what I call 'paddock grass' and other kinds are just left unmown to do their bit. Of course grass is also host to all sorts of insect life too so if you want to do a bit to help nature leave some patches to grow long, and if you have a sunny spot you can have a bit of a meadow and you may even be rewarded with some pretty meadow flowers. Birds will enjoy the seeds too.

I do realise I am probably defeating the object here
by letting the chooks out! - but I don't let them out
too often and they tend to stick to one part of my wild area.

Lesser Hawkbit
This grows all through my lawn - it's not really noticeable until summer when the grass stops growing or goes brown when it is dry and then this drought tolerant plant comes into its own. Part of me really dislikes it because it looks so darn messy and more irritatingly, it doesn't half tickle your ankles with its long flower stems! But this is about what the wildlife likes, not me, and I've found through observation that my ducks like eating the leaves, moorhens like to take mouthfuls of the fluffy seed heads and one year we had a huge flock of green and gold finches, including young, descend on a great patch of it and spent a week or so eating all the fluffy seed heads (it looks like dandelion), so we don't rush to mow it off, however irritating or messy!

The only reason I have a photo of this plant is obvious!

Another 'weed' of my lawn and wild patches. This amazing pretty purple flowered plant has the ability to withstand being mown repeatedly and will flower either as a 4 foot high plant or as a low growing mown specimen! Butterflies and bees love it. Which is good because there's tons of it here!

Wild Lamium/Deadnettle
One of the earliest flowering 'weeds' in the garden so a good source of nectar for bees that are around on an early spring sunny day.

Ivy (again!)
The flowers are a source of nectar for bees and other insects and the foliage and stems are good cover and anchorage for birds' nests.

Nectar from the flowers, fruit for birds, little mammals and humans, a certain protection I would imagine from the dense coverage of a wild bramble patch (at least from human beings!), and some solitary bees bore into bramble stems to lay their eggs.

There's plenty more wild things like thistles, ox-eye daisies and foxgloves (the latter both growing wild in the woodland as well as in the flower beds) all of which are beneficial in some way or other, but I think I had better stop before this gets so long nobody will want to read it! I've probably forgotten something really obvious that I'll remember after I publish this and kick myself. Never mind, that'll give me something else to write about another day ;-)

Edit - I jolly knew I'd forget something obvious! Brambles!!! (added above)


  1. Thanks for this, I've jotted it all down in my nature book :)

  2. Lovely post as for the nettles, we have tried them, don't bother!

  3. Thanks guys - added in brambles which I'd forgotten! Colly I have found that the majority of wild edible green leafy type things don't taste anywhere near as good as their cultivated counterparts....and as they all tend to be growing at the same time it's no contest! :-)