Elephants, donkeys and goldfish

When I was very small (perhaps I should say young as I haven’t grown much since then), my parents and their friends would often liken me to an elephant or a donkey. I wasn’t fat nor was I in possession of a set of protuberant front teeth but instead had a good memory and was very stubborn.

There is a picture of me that my mum keeps in her purse. I’m aged 6, dressed in an awful smock that is adorned with pink and blue snowmen. In the picture, I’m pulling the face my cat does when I’ve put his comedy cat jumper on.  Even now, I recall how tightly the collar pinched my neck and the puff-ball sleeves impeded any normal functioning of my arms. I only wore the dress once and no amount of bribery from my parents would ever make me put it on again.

Over the years, despite my memory becoming less elephantine and more goldfish-like, my stubbornness has remained. This is why, when I mentioned that I was having some difficulty collecting nectar from flowers sampled from Wisley, I was not deterred.

Flowers sampled from the Plants for Bugs plots including (clockwise from top): Genista lydia, Osteospermum jucundum, Leucanthemum vulgare, Geranium sanguineum, Viburnum opulus and Rosa rubiginosa.

 

On a warm, dry morning a couple of weeks ago, I collected a sample of flowers from each of the plants in flower on the Plants for Bugs plots. I made sure I was there early- before the bumblebees and hoverflies were active and this time my efforts were rewarded with microcapillary tubes full of nectar!

Microcapillary tubes containing nectar- note the meniscus which identifies the position of nectar along the length of the glass tube.

 

As I hadn’t changed the time I sampled flowers or the way I collected nectar, I can only assume that during previous sampling occasion in April: 1)the early burst of warm summer weather had encouraged flowers to open but provided little nectar reward and/ or 2) early-bird pollinators may have come along and sampled flowers before I collected them.

Whatever the reason, this success is good news as it means, with help from researchers at Newcastle University (who will be analysing the glucose, sucrose and fructose concentrations of the nectar), we can help provide advice on what’s best to plant to encourage pollinating insects back into our gardens.

I plan to sample at least six times during the flowering season.  Given that the Plants for Bugs plots contain native and non-native plant species, it will be interesting to see whether there is a significant difference in the time of flowering or the quantity and quality of nectar provided by plants from these different geographic origins.

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  1. Pingback: RHS KTP Blog - practising and demonstrating excellence in horticultural science · New year’s resolutions, coloured gloves and separating scientists

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