Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
The Ivy Banquet for Insects
The Autumn Ivy banquet.
Advent Calendar 5
The plant I most look forward to seeing in the Autumn is the flowering ivy. This is a late season feast for British insects and can be a really exciting spectacle. Ivy winds and clings its way through the hedgerows and up the trunks of trees. It is evergreen and the lobed, webbed footed leaves a common sight to us all. One of our most important hedgerow species.
Growth of the ivy plant.
It is an unusual plant in that it has two distinct growth phases. As a juvenile plant and that can be up to ten years old, it grows quickly with adventitious roots. The adventitious roots spring out from the stems and cling onto whatever surface they can find. Then comes the adult part of the plants life journey. The stems thicken and the leaves change shape. The lobes disappear and the edges of the leaf smooth out. The ivy plant then produces globules of sweetly scented flowers rich with sweet honey smelling nectar.
An entomological fueling stop.
The ivy flowers are an Autumn feast for insects. The noise of an ivy bush is like being alongside a hive. It hums and thrums with insect activity. Droneflies are particularly fond of ivy nectar as these insects will be spending the Winter on the wing. It is important that they have a good source of food to help them get by.
Honey bees also favour this last minute fuel stop. For the butterflies the ivy is a last minute gorge before they spend their Winter in a state of low metabolic hibernation. The beautiful Holly Blue butterfly favours not just the holly but the ivy blossoms as well. A perfect Christmas butterfly.
Of course the banquet is not just about the insects that come to gorge on the nectar. Predatory animals are in the next tier and ready to feed on the pollinators themselves. Birds are attracted at ivy blossom time to pick off insects. So any of the insect eating club which might include wrens who like to make their nests in ivy.
The berries start to ripen in November but depending on the weather won’t be fully ripe until after Christmas or early Spring. Then blackbirds, Thrushes, Robins and many of our over wintering birds seek out this precious food source.