News from the Sudbury Riverside – September 2019
Ivy is a plant that is seriously misunderstood by many. This is made clear by the on-going ‘hacking’ of ivy stems to trees along the Valley Trail. Perhaps the ‘culprits’ cast the ivy in the same role as the rainforest strangler fig which, indeed, kills its ‘victim’ over time. Ivy, however, does nothing of the sort apart from clothing many trunks with dense foliage that provides a hugely beneficial habitat as well as food for a whole host of creatures from birds to butterflies, spiders and bees.
For one bee there is no other plant that can provide its source of food. Indeed the ivy bee’s life has evolved around that of the ivy. Whereas the holly blue butterfly will lay eggs on holly for one generation and on ivy for the second generation, the ivy bee has evolved no such an option. Its entire life is associated with ivy.
This bee was first recorded in England as recently as 2001. It has, however, become very well established and is now extremely common on the Sudbury riverside. The new season’s ivy bees do not emerge until September which might seem to be rather late in the year compared with a lot of other insects. This is, however, because it only feeds on ivy flowers which do not begin to bloom until the autumn. On calm, warm days when, in the words of Keats, the autumn sunshine sets ‘budding more, and still more, later flowers for the bees’ take a look at flowering ivy in a sunny spot. The flowers attract a whole host of insects; red admiral and holly blue butterflies, wasps, hornets, hoverflies and, of course, ivy bees.
Unlike the social honey bee the ivy bee leads a solitary life although that may not appear to be the case when dozens of them are seen feeding. The females excavate underground chambers where they lay eggs and furnish them with ivy pollen. Sandy open banks can become riddled with small nesting holes made by these bees. When the grubs pupate the new adults remain underground waiting for the ivy to come into flower once more. So, when thinking about removing plants such as ivy from the countryside it is advisable to consider the wider implications of such actions. After all pollinating insects are in free-fall decline and yet we need them in order for us to have a future.
Adrian Walters, Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity, Ranger, and Honorary Freeman of Sudbury