Often seen as a pest in many gardens Ivy (Hedera helix) can be found across Britain. It is well known that this important native plant provides cover to a wide variety of bird species but what about its importance to insects?
As you can tell from the title of this post, I believe that ivy should be encouraged where possible due to its vital importance to insects. Firstly it provides cover and a hibernation site for a variety of insect species that overwinter in ivy bushes. Secondly ivy itself is eaten by around 70 insect species so is an important foodplant.
Thirdly as ivy flowers rather late in the year it provides a really, really important floral resource for a large number of insects. In one study nearly all of the pollen collected by Honey Bees (Apis melifera) in Autumn was from Ivy.
The nectar is also used by a wide variety of species and may even be more important than the pollen to insects. When examined, honey bee crops were found to contain almost only nectar from ivy. 94.6% of bumblebees visiting ivy flowers have also been found to not have been collecting pollen, they are visiting for the sugar rich nectar instead. It is thought that this nectar may even increase honey bee colony fitness allowing them to survive better in the winter. Ivy is also important for wasps, hover flies, moths and butterflies. Over 72 species have been recorded on ivy and this list is thought to be incomplete.
Finally, I’m going to mention Colletes hederae, a solitary bee species that specialises on feeding on ivy flowers. This species was only discovered in 1993 and has only been in Britain for a few years (please note that this doesn’t mean it isn’t native or is invasive). This species is now spreading northwards in Britain, if you see one of these bees then please report it here . Little is known about the ecology of this species so there is lots still to discover.
I hope that this short post makes you think twice before you chop down the ivy in your garden.