Nature on our Doorsteps: Winter Queens

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

In early winter when garden plants have mostly finished flowering, the seasonal drop in insect numbers is noticeable.

The work of pollinating bees, bumblebees and hoverflies is mostly finished, and many adult insects have died away. 

A late season Hoverfly feeding on Ivy pollen 1

A late season Hoverfly, feeding on Ivy pollen

While the garden is quieter without the hum and buzz of insects, the occasional wasp or bumblebee can still be seen.

These are most likely to be this year’s queens who are busy preparing for their winter hibernation.

Unlike honeybees who store honey to survive the winter, worker bumblebees and wasps all die away after the new queens have mated and flown off.

These queens are now busily feeding as they go about searching for a safe place to overwinter.  

Luckily, not all wild plants have stopped flowering. In the last month or so, the unusual yellow flowers of plants like Ivy have only started to flower.

Winter Heliotrope is coming into flower now 1

Winter Heliotrope is coming into flower now

 

These will provide vital pollen and nectar for a few weeks yet, for queen wasps and bumblebees and maybe even a late hoverfly or butterfly.   

Also coming into flower now along shady hedgerows and riverbanks is Winter Heliotrope. This non-native plant was originally planted by beekeepers to provide additional feeding for their bees well into autumn and early winter. 

The flowers of both Ivy and Winter Heliotrope are scented, although the sweeter scent of the Heliotrope is perhaps more appreciated by most passers-by.

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