Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, as you might have noticed this is not a wild plant (though it is widely naturalized in the UK), but it is ubiquitous enough for us to pass it by without stopping to admire its beauty, as if it were a dandelion or a daisy. But this is a stoical and generous flower. I have one in my north-facing garden that has not stopped flowering for over two years. In the spring, the solitary bees and hoverflies visit it, and on mild winter days a bumblebee might drop in for a sip of nectar. It requires not a jot of fuss, but just keeps doing its thing, until one day it flowers itself to death. I wanted to celebrate it here, because, like so many human wallflowers, it is often overlooked in spite of its sterling character.
Like all wallflowers, perennial wallflower is a member of the cabbage family. The wild ancestor of ‘Bowles Mauve’ and other cultivars comes originally from rocky places in Spain and Portugal. I have already mentioned how attractive it is to pollinators such as bees and flies, but in a University of Sussex study in 2013 it was found to be visited by more butterflies than any other plant in the garden. Take that, buddleia! I imagine that the long flowering period of the plant helps it pick up visitors throughout the whole year.
…and this rather delightful weevil, who lives inside the fruits and feeds on the developing seeds.
Furthermore, it is said to be a food plant of the Spanish Ibex. I love the thought of this most domesticated of plants being fodder for a creature as elusive as an ibex.
And here is a picture of the wild form of the plant, as found in the Asturias region of Spain. How delicate and pretty it is!
I am guessing that the name ‘wallflower’ probably arose because plants of this genus can often be found growing on rocky soil, or at the bottom of outcrops, and they will certainly seed in the crevices at the feet of walls. Human ‘wallflowers’ probably got their name from the way that they lean against the wall at social gatherings, watching the other more extrovert creatures whilst not joining in themselves. What both kinds of wallflower share is a kind of modesty and shyness which means that they are sometimes undervalued. I have never been without a Bowles Mauve perennial wallflower in the garden since I discovered how useful they are for insects of all kinds, and how delicately pretty they are. If there is one slogan for 2017, it might be ‘plant a wallflower today, and befriend a whole gaggle of bees’.
Photo One (Garden Carpet Moth) – By ©entomart, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=294880
Photo Two (Weevil) – http://www.friedbahr.de/gesamt/172/172.html
Photo Three (Ibex) – By Javier García Diz – Trabajo propio. Own Work., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1441164
Photo Four ( Wild Perennial Wallflower) – En O Caurel, Lugo, agosto de 2008, © José Luis Porto
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