A very quick post for UK readers,I thought it would be nice to do a series of occasional very short posts that focus on quick cheap fixes for biodiversity,its often easy to get the impression from organisations and the media that biodiversity needs large areas or big gardens but this is often not the case.Almost anyone can make a huge difference in at least one or two areas.The easiest is to help provide food or host plants for buterflies.
Todays post is about Buckthorn the only larvael foodplant of Brimestone butterflies (seen above and below),which is a posh way of saying Buckthorns are the only things their fussy caterpillars eat and so the only things were the yellow butterflies lay their eggs .
The good news is that Buckthorns are very cheap to buy and easy to care for ,not overly fussy about soil or location and are easy to trim and keep under control ,the Alder Buckthron is quite spiny so a good burglar or animal deterant,the bad news is they are pretty boring shrubs and berries from the Common Buckthorn are mildly poisonous ,the effect of eating them can be best judged by the plants common name of purging Buckthorn .Berries and bark from Buckthorns can cause skin irritation.However if you dont randomly eat strange berries or garden without washing your hands then your probably safe.
photo by Paul Sterry
Information on Buckthorns can be found here
Buckthorns used to be quite common in hedgerows but have fallen out of popularity for mixed hedge plantings.They are not interesting enough to be good ornamental garden plants and as they need to be left un trimmed to be of maxium benefit they are not really much use for neat hedges.They also must not be sprayed with pesticides ,fertilisers etc or the caterpillars will be poisoned
.You will need to plant either an Alder Buckthorn or a common Buckthorn ,I made the mistake in my first year of wildlife gadening of buying the slightly more decorative Sea Buckthorn which is no use for Brimestones.
The really good news is that Brimestone butterfly females will fly upto 5 miles to lay eggs on a buckthorn so if you plant one and theres Brimestones anywhere in a 5 mile radius theres a good chance that they will find the bush and lay their eggs and that these butterflies in turn will lay eggs on it.They may not arrive the first year if you have a small bush or theres bushes closer by but its almost certain they will arrive at some point ,its a very easy cheap fast way to re introduce this butterfly to your area .In addition by planting buckthorn you create a stopping off point ,,your doing the enviromental equivilent of paying it forward as the butterflies hatching in your area would also travel 5 miles to find a Buckthorn so that anywhere 5 miles away from you with a Buckthorn shrub will also find Brimestones apppearing ,your create a wildlife corridor perhaps the only link between areas were there is a signifcant area of green space or woodland.
Butterflies hatching will need food so some simple flowers such as primroses ,primulas ,daisys or pansys planted around its base would be useful and also act as ground cover so you dont need to weed.,avoid modern polyanthus primulas as these may have little or no bee or butterfly food .
If you were to plant winter flowering and summer flowering pansys you would have year round colour and valuable food for early butterflies and bees ,you can see butterflies in your garden from spring to late autumn. I saw my first butterfliee a painted lady in very early March and a bee a few days later .Double flowers or complicated ones such as the bedding gerniums or fruscias are no good as butterflies and bees cant find any food in their complicated petals.Best of all a buddliea planted in another pot or in your garden would provide the perfect food plant as it has a long flowering time and will attract other butterflies and bees too.
,Budleias are also pretty cheap and very easy to grow from cuttings ,just chop of a couple of buddliea branches from a friends bush and stick them in the ground its a pretty safe bet at least one will grow.
Buckhorns can be bought online from the following places