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Nature's wallflower provides the last dance of summer

Last modified: 05 November 2011

Wasp nectaring

Encouraged by the last warm days of autumn, wasps and other insects can be sustained by feeding on nectar from ivy

Image: Grahame Madge

The ivy may never win a flower show rosette, but Britain’s wildlife has many reasons to be thankful to this ‘wallflower’. The ivy, which is one of the last flowers of the year to provide nectar, is an attractive source of food, and across the UK it is sustaining butterflies and a myriad of other insects still on the wing, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather.

Val Osborne is the head of the RSPB’s wildlife enquiries team. Commenting on the wildlife value of ivy, she said: “Year round the ivy is a magnificent plant. At this time of year it provides insects with much-needed energy, while in late winter its berries create a feast for birds, such as blackbirds and thrushes. While its foliage provides places for insects and spiders to hide and birds to nest. All in all, it’s a miracle plant for nature.”

Ivy’s quick-growing properties means that some gardeners and homeowners are concerned about the plant’s ability to do damage to trees and masonry. However, research has shown that the plant doesn’t usually affect trees or buildings. In fact, some regard that the ivy has beneficial qualities and, for example, it can protect historic properties from damage from atmospheric pollution.

Lifeline

Val Osborne added: “On occasion the ivy does get an undeserved poor reputation, but the plant can be easily managed, as required. We’d like to appeal to gardeners to spare the ivy in their gardens if they can, especially for the benefit of the flush of insects for which this plant is currently providing a lifeline.”

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