Nettles, the secret ingredient of a beautiful garden.
If you can’t find a corner for these you may be missing out on the most beautiful display, and one that requires absolutely no maintenance from you whatever!
Nettle is an unmistakable plant that’s often given a wide berth. It’s famed for its sting, which is delivered by needle-like hairs on its leaves. Often viewed as an unwanted plant, nettles are invaluable to wildlife, especially butterflies.
The Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, also known as the stinging nettle, can be found throughout the UK. It is a perennial, with toothed opposite leaves and can grow to over a metre in height. The flowers appear from around May to September and are green-brown in colour, with yellow stamens. Nettles can grow in a variety of areas including waste ground, roadside verges, disturbed areas and gardens. They spread by rhizomes, and are able to out-compete other plants and dominate areas. This, along with its stinging nature, is probably why it is disliked by many people.
However, they are a godsend for butterflies
Nettles support a huge number of insect species, which in turn attract birds and other wildlife. Having a patch of nettles in your garden is especially beneficial to several butterfly species – you just have to make sure they’re out of range of your skin.
These butterflies are one of the most attractive visitors to our gardens, their orange upperwings with black patterns and blue spotted margins make them easily distinguishable. They rely heavily on nettles as they are the larval foodplant for the caterpillars. The small tortoiseshell will lay their eggs on the nettles, then the spiny dark caterpillars with yellow stripes will hatch after about 1 ½ weeks. They can then be seen in groups on the top of nettle plants in a silk web which they use to protect themselves.
The coloured eyespot on the wing of the peacock butterfly make it one of the most familiar. What is less commonly known, however, is that the larval foodplant for this species is the stinging nettle.
The black spiny caterpillars of peacock hatch out from batches of hundreds of eggs. The caterpillars also live in groups in protective silk tents built among the leaves.
This smart looking butterfly has dark wings with red and white markings, and is a frequent visitor to UK gardens. Nettles are also an important larval foodplant for this species, however it may also use small nettle and hop. Red admirals lay singular eggs on nettle leaves that hatch after around a week.
The caterpillars are black with spines and have a yellow stripe along the side of their body. They create a protective tent by folding leaves and clasping them together with silk.
This butterfly has orange and brown colouring, a distinctive white comma on its underwing and jagged wing edges. In deline through the early part of the 20th century, they seem to be making a comeback in recent years. Preferring nettles as its foodplant they may also lay their eggs on hop, elms, willow and currant bushes.
The spiny, orange and black caterpillars have a white patch on their body which gives the appearance of a bird dropping, which dissuades predators from eating them.
These butterflies have a muted colouring, with a brown base, and black and white markings on their forewing. Although thistles and mallow are often used by this species as a larval foodplant, nettles can also be used.
These black caterpillars with yellow stripes and spines eat the leaf underside and then build a protective tent out of leaves attached with silk.
Although appearing menacing and unappealing nettles are actually very important for various butterfly species, so keeping a patch in your garden will greatly benefit these species.
Now that’s just the butterflies and many species of nettle loving moths as well; of course where they and their caterpillars are, you’ll also find the birds – the upshot being your garden decorated by these little moving works of art.
With thanks and credit to: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2016/05/butterflies-need-nettles/