There are certain groups of plants that are stalwarts of the wildlife-friendly garden, and one of them is putting on a show in gardens across the country right now with its prolific blossom. It is the genus called Prunus, better known as the cherries and plums.
In fact, in Storm Hannah, it has been turning my lawn into a scattering of confetti.
However, as with so many groups of plants, they are very variable in their value for wildlife, with some being much better than others. So here is a quick guide to choosing the best.
But let's start with the 'also-rans' in the Prunus world as far as wildlife is concerned - the Japanese flowering cherries. You can find one in flower in almost every street, and they are often a visual showstopper, the flowers often a soft pink. They are based on a tree called Prunus serrulata, from eastern Asia, but they have been heavily selected and tweaked by breeders over hundreds of years, such that many have double flowers which no longer have stamens, and hence no pollen and no fruit.
In fact, one of the commonest varieties - the weeping cherry Kiku-shidare-zakura - has flowers are so abnormally stuffed with petals that if there was any nectar left in the middle an insect would need to be a magician to find it.
So instead, the Prunus trees that are best for wildlife are those with single flowers rich in nectar and pollen, and which then produce an abundance of fruit in autumn. And for such plants, you need look no further than our own native trees.
For large gardens, the Wild Cherry Prunus avium is magnificent and can grow 25m tall (80 feet). I have one in my garden that is perhaps 15m (45ft) so far. I took this photo this week and it is glorious - and alive with pollinating insects. Its small cherry fruit will feed all my Blackbirds handsomely later in the season. (The first photo is a close-up of the same tree.)
An alternative for a medium-sized garden is the Bird Cherry Prunus padus. It comes from the northern half of the UK, but is now planted everywhere. It only grows to about 10m (30 ft) at most, and its flowers are borne in long, dangling trusses, so much so that the white blossom can seem to cover the tree. I planted one two years ago as a little whip and it has grown well and is flowering strongly (below), so I should get some of the bitter little black berries for the birds this year.
But if those two are too large for your garden, then you could always go for either a cultivated plum or eating-cherry tree, which are also members of the Prunus genus, and will of course give you a harvest, too. They key thing is to choose a tree on a rootstock to suit your garden (fruit trees tend to be grafted onto a specific rootstock that then determines how large the tree will grow). A Pixy rootstock for plums (and the greengages and damsons) and a Gisela 5 rootstock for cherries are both suitable for smaller gardens. The morello cherry is especially useful as it will grow in shady places, although its cherries are best for cooking (and the birds, of course!). I have a mirabelle plum, a greengage, a sweet cherry and a Victoria plum, and all are gorgeous, to look at and to eat.
It is worth being aware that cherries and plums do have a habit of suckering, in which upright shoots pop up through your lawns and flower borders several feet from the tree itself. These grow up from the roots, but can be nipped off young, as close to the root as possible, and they shouldn't cause too much of the problem.
As well as all that blossom and then the fruits offering sustenance for wildlife, the leaves are also nibbled (rarely to the point of looking unsightly) by the caterpillars of many moth species, which then themselves provide food for birds. So if you've got space for a tree in your garden and don't yet have a Prunus, they are right up there near the top of my list of recommendations.
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