Derek – Friday 3rd July 2020

I snap these sun flies (Helophilus pendulus) on a leaf on the pond. Helophilus means marsh loving and pendulus means hanging, so our pond is their manor. The name sun flies is thought to be a misreading of ‘Helo’ as ‘Helio’ (marsh as sun), as they are no more sunlovers than many other flies. Because of the stripes, they are also called the footballer. Watford FC have similar stripes, though a glance online shows Watford shirts are variable. Another name is tiger hoverfly. You can tell by all these folk names how ubiquitous sun flies are. If a fly, a flower or a bird has no common name, then you can be sure it is fairly rare.

An easy photo for me as the flies are mating, which can take half an hour or more. The pair are oblivious to me and my camera, mating is too important, as they must propagate the species. Although they have wasp like stripes, sun flies have no sting nor the fierce buzz of a wasp. Their colouring could fool a bird, which is probably the purpose as they have no weaponry beyond this mimicry. Sun flies are pollinators, so beneficial in our garden, but the larvae have less gratifying habits, often growing in liquid manure.

The plant the flies have chosen for their tryst is amphibious bistort (Polygonum amphibium). The amphibium part of the name comes from the fact that the plant can grow in or out of water. A very useful attribute, should a pond dry out. The leaves can grow flat on the pond surface like water lilies or it can be a tall upright plant as this one is. Very confusing when it comes to identification as you might easily think they were two different plants.

On Saturday afternoon, a group of volunteers will be tidying the garden. This will be a regular Saturday tidy up, in advance of allowing the public in, which we hope to do in a couple of weeks. We have been watering over the past months, but have been lax in the tidying stakes. This has meant we have some interesting wild flowers, not just in our wildflower beds. And no doubt some of these will be ‘tidied away’.

One that I am sure will be hit is purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea). It is a tall plant with long slender spikes of tiny purple flowers. Look closely and you will see they are like diminutive snapdragons. Although a wildflower, purple toadflax has its fans, and not just me. It was featured in last week’s Guardian garden section, which is a bigger accolade than even these pages can grant. Alys Fowler tells me (and the other 1000s of readers) that the plant hails from Italy. Reminding me of my blog of two weeks ago, when I discussed what ‘native’ meant. She further says:

‘It’s the sort of thing that prefers to seed itself on a path edge and thus is a bit like that tall guy at the front of a gig, who everyone would like much better if he stood at the back. Still, it is a lovely thing to watch, humming with pollinators.’

And that’s enough from Alys. She has her own column. Though we could give her a guest spot, should she get furloughed. In the meantime, you might attempt saying rapidly, six times, (just during lockdown):

Alys Fowler, flower & garden Guardian guide

Comments 2

  1. Oh dear, I thought it was purple loosestrife and sold it as such at the plant stall today. Still, it’s not the name that matters, people liked the plant. I always learn a lot from your blogs, thank you Derek.

  2. No purple loosestrife I am afraid, Myanah. Though we do have some yellow loosestrife in the tyre under the big cherry tree, currently in flower. I heard the flower stall did really well. So well done, we are slowly coming alive. The queue was there all morning, which I am sure you know. I was going to come, but don’t like queues, so left it to Lia who doesn’t mind.

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