Most of us probably remember childhood car trips out of town, our windshields covered with insects hit on the way. We had to stop and clean them off; but these days, we hardly ever have to turn the wipers on.
The countless stories about the human effect on biodiversity are nothing short of harrowing. The insect population has fallen by 60% in recent years. Many factors are to blame, including the increase in urbanization, pesticide use, and the loss of native habitat, among other things. But not all hope is lost. We have a powerful army in wildflowers that can help turn these numbers around.
What is a wildflower?
Wildflowers grow naturally in the countryside. There are a plethora of native ones, but there are also varieties introduced from other countries. Many species are used as a medicine, and in recent years, their benefits have been promoted around the world. Some food plants have derived from their wild ancestors still present in the meadows.
In Britain and Ireland, there are about 1,600 species of wildflowers from more than 20 different families. More common flowers include:
- Buttercup: Bright yellow flowers of meadow and creeping variety are common throughout spring and summer, mainly in damp fields and pastures.
- Poppy: Large Common Poppy, Long-headed Poppy, and Yellow Horned Poppy are native to the UK and are often in poor soil wastelands and edges of arable fields. In managed meadows, we can also see the California Poppy, and its bright orange color is loved by insects and humans alike.
- Cornflower: A stunning cyan-colored flower that got its name from being a weed in grain fields, and is seen to this day growing along their fallow edges.
- Daisy: A popular grassland flower with white petals and a sunny-yellow middle. The name is derived from “day’s eye,” as the whole head closes at night and opens in the morning.
- Foxglove: A tall flower spike with up to 80 tube-like flowers that are usually pink, although also come in white. Bumblebees love them and they are also widely used in medicine for treatments of heart disorders.
You’re already doing your bit!
Most gardeners have common wildflowers in their garden without even realizing it, although flowers such as comfrey, marjoram, and thyme are often deliberately planted. Varieties such as hairy bittercress, white clover, willowherb, and pineapple weed are considered to be intrusive by some, but their delicate flowers provide nectar for pollinators, including bees, hoverflies, butterflies, and even wasps. Go and observe a meadow grassland, and some unfamiliar and fascinating bugs will appear.
Once the realization of habitat loss reached the wider public, the calls to restore and protect it mounted. Many cities called for a ban on the overuse of herbicides and adopted eco-friendlier management of public spaces. Parks created wildflower meadows and areas in which they let the grass grow high, substituting traditional annual bedding plants for pollinator-friendly perennials.
Only pros, no cons
In Calderdale, where I’m based, the council created a “Corridor of Color,” which consists of several micro and macro wildflower sites. The stunning displays are in places you wouldn’t expect, such as central reservations between roads, on the verges of parks, in the middle of roundabouts, and empty fields between housing estates.
The results are mind-blowing! The insect population is boosted year after year. Maintenance costs have significantly reduced, and of course, everyone loves the view! Wildflower meadows, when established for three or four years, will provide a variety of flowering species from March until Christmas.
There’s a social aspect to the meadows, too. People in the valley have created Wildflower Collectives to share knowledge about the benefits of encouraging biodiversity. Residents meet and mingle during the seed collecting or weeding events, creating new friendships along the way.
What can I do?
One does not have to own a farm and turn it into a meadow to do their bit. Everyone can pick the seeds and scatter them in new places. The more foraging spaces, the better! Sometimes, the little seedlings may struggle in periods of dry spells, so grab a watering can and show them some support.
We all play a role. Let’s make sure there is always the opportunity to run through flowery, green patches; let’s help the insect population survive.