Tuesday, 26 March 2013

AirSpace Yarden - Plant Donations and the Brimstone butterfly

Work has frozen - literally - in the Yarden this week, as last week's glimpse of Springtime, proved to be a temporary blip. However, plans are going ahead, indoors, to create a full days'sprogramme of talks, and workshops for the Yarden's grand opening, on May 4th. More details to come.

Today we had a lovely gift from two AirSpace friends - Beryl and Geoff Stoker - who have been doing some research into butterfly friendly plants, and have donated to the Yarden a Frangula alnus or Alder Buckthorn.

During their research they came across a small family run nursery and arboretum in South Derbyshire called BlueBell Arboretum, run by conservationists Suzette and Robert Vernon and their family. Robert is a RHS committee member and Chelsea Flower Show judge, and recommended the Frangulus alnus as the perfect plant not only for butterflies but also bees and, thanks to the abundance of berries, birds.

the frangulus fruit - loved by the birds
Robert provided us with the following information on the Frangulus;

Formerly known as Rhamnus frangula, this large shrub or small tree, suitable for most soils, has pretty, mustard yellow autumn colours when the glossy red fruits turn jet black;  these are much enjoyed by our feathered friends.

This native hedgerow plant is the host plant to Brimstone butterflies which they can locate from over a mile away, (maybe they can read the label)!  They will only lay their eggs on this and one other closely related species, Rhamnus cathartica which their caterpillars use exclusively as food plants.

We purchased 30 Brimstone caterpillars in 1998, and now have an established colony of Brimstones using our Frangulas as host plants.  We've discovered that these spectacular insects, (the cocks are clear yellow and the females a paler, creamy yellow), are surprisingly territorial and they can often be seen here, usually during early May and again during late summer.

As beekeepers, we've found that the tiny greenish yellow flowers, borne during midsummer are an excellent food plant for our honey bees making it altogether one of the finest species for conservation planting.

Alder buckthorn has been an important plant in British culture & industry, as its' charcoal has been used in the manufacture of gunpowder and is still used today in the production of explosives.

Because it is  the host plant to ergot, a disease of organic cereals, in particular rye, during World War 2 it was compulsorily eradicated and is now usually found as an uncommon hedgerow species.  Because of modern agricultural practices and food hygiene, this is no longer a major concern.

It's great to know that people are really getting into the ideas and ethos behind the AirSpace Yarden, and really lovely to get donations of this sort. Hopefully after a few months the yard will be host to its very own population of Brimstone butterflies.

Thanks Beryl, Geoff and Robert.

Here are links to the BlueBell Nursery and Arboretum

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