‘Aren’t all wildflowers really just weeds?’
A weed is a name we give to a plant that’s growing in the wrong place. Invasive species often and quite rightly get a bad name because they outgrow other native plants and reduce biodiversity. But not all weeds should be considered bad for the planet. Generally speaking, the more biodiversity there is, the better. However, there are undoubtedly some species which can become invasive if left unchecked but the ones below are not amongst them. Although even those that are invasive often provide great food plants for insects and all they need is management to stop them getting out of control.
Let’s challenge some negative perceptions about wildflowers. These photo sequences aim to tell a story about the life of each wildflower. Enjoy a different perspective and notice your own closer connection with nature.
Dandelions can be an annoyance but they are far from being an aggressively spreading plant that alters natural habitats, which is the hallmark of a truly invasive species.
Dandelions are an important source of food for wildlife. Particularly in early spring when other food sources are scarce they provide an early source of pollen and nectar. Dandelions encourage biodiversity as they attract and support many species in the ecosystem, including bees, butterflies, moths and birds who in turn pollinate fruits, vegetables and other flowers that feed even more species.
Dandelions help to aerate the soil with their long tap roots. These roots push through dry, compacted earth, helping to break it up and forming channels for air and water, loosening the soil which helps earthworms to access it. The plants draw nutrients from the soil into their leaves and when they die and decompose they leave behind organic matter that nourishes the soil.
The Common Nettle
Nettles are key to the survival of butterflies, as they are the primary food source for many caterpillars including those of the comma, tortoiseshell and peacock. Nettles are also the first choice for ladybirds to lay their eggs. Ladybird larvae are ferocious predators that feed on problem whitefly and red spider mites. So, it’s a good idea to include a small patch of nettles in the garden. Just dig up nettles at the end of each season to prevent their fleshy roots spreading out of control.
Cut nettles make a good addition to compost because they are a natural activator and speed up the decomposition process. Try mixing the nettles with different materials – dry, wet, soft and woody – as they will become slimy if used on their own. Better to add just the nettle stalks and leaves to the compost but not the roots, or there is a risk that new nettles will start growing in your compost heap.
In the 1930’s clover was considered a helpful addition to the garden lawn mix. Its ability to thrive in poor soil, produce nitrogen, and survive in drought conditions made it a valuable plant and clover aided the growth of the surrounding grasses. But when lawn weed killer chemicals that were sold to the public in the late 1940’s also killed clover, the chemical manufacturers managed to convince the public that the sight of clover in their lawns was undesirable.
Nowadays Clover is better appreciated with White clover being the most common type to be found in lawns because it is low-growing (about 6 inches). Red clover with its dark pink flowers has a higher growth habitat (about 14 inches) and is also abundantly found in fields, ditches and roadsides.
Clover is easily grown in a variety of conditions and being high in nutrients, it is a good field crop for cattle and sheep. Clover adds nitrogen to the soil in which it grows. So, it can be used for soil-improvement as it will benefit any crop grown in the same soil, the following year.
Clover also plays an important part in the life cycle of the Honeybee. Bees and many other pollinators are extremely attracted to clover flowers.
Kim Mackenzy Andrews
Kim is a children’s author, nature writer, photographer and artist. Kim is a patch reporter for the BBC wildlife magazine. Find her nature books for children at KimMackenzyAndrews.com