As we enter September and the start of autumn, most summer flowers are going over as they set seed and cease blooming. Replacing them will be an abundance of Ivy, which is one of the most critical late-season sources of food for pollinators.
Flowering Ivy is perfect for pollinators in September
Honey bees will bring back the nectar and store it as honey to feed on during the cold winter, but it’s not just honey bees which rely on the Ivy blooms. Bumblebees, social wasps queens, hoverflies and butterflies also depend on Ivy flowers to fatten up before their long winter hibernation. Another insect which relies on Ivy, almost exclusively so is the Ivy Mining Bee (Colletes hederae) which is our Bee of the Month for September – find out more about this attractive stripy bee here on the blog later this month!
Several of our pollinators are migratory and rely on Ivy to fuel their long autumn migration south to warmer climes. One of the most spectacular examples of autumn insect migration is that of the Painted Lady Butterfly.
Painted Lady Butterfly - Long distance traveller fuelled by Ivy flowers
For decades, scientists assumed that butterflies migrating north in spring perished before they could return south leading to a dead-end population. However, thanks to advances in modern radar technology, scientists have been able to track the migration of butterflies, with some 29 million butterflies migrating from the UK each Autumn. The leave the UK, flying through Europe, across the Mediterranean, through sub-Saharan Africa to central Africa. The butterflies fly at an altitude of 500-1000 feet and are propelled south by high altitude wind currents enabling them to make the journey to Africa in under a month. The longest insect migration in the world is mainly fuelled on Ivy nectar!
While Ivy is loved by many of our pollinators, it’s not liked by the majority of beekeepers. Ivy honey is rich in glucose sugars which means it readily granulates and can turn very hard in the comb, which can be challenging to extract and has a rather unusual flavour!