Old Man’s Beard

I’ve always hated Old Man’s Beard. It seemed to be far too vigorous, sprawling itself uninvited over large sections of hedgerow such that things underneath are smothered. And its not as if its particularly beautiful.

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Old Man’s Beard growing over a large section of the hedgerow.

However, I just have to think again when I see it teeming with life here.

The meadows have been cut and all the flowers and their nectar cataclysmically made to disappear in a sweep of a tractor’s blades. The bees and butterflies are now concentrated onto what is left – and there is so much visiting this plant:

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Meadow Brown female
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Meadow Brown male
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Gatekeeper
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Red Admiral

Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies are specialist on Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba). Also, many moths use the plant for their caterpillar stage and in fact there are two moths for which Old Man’s Beard is the only food source for the caterpillar, the Small Emerald and the Small Waved Umber – I regularly catch both these moths in my moth trap and now I know why because we have got lots of this plant in our hedgerows.

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Small Waved Umber
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Small Emerald moth

A lover of chalky soils, at this time of year the plant has white spiky flowers:

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The flowers of old Man’s Beard

But in the autumn and early winter these turn into very hairy seed pods, earning the plant its common name:

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Its not just the butterflies and the moths that love this plant, it is covered in honey bees and bumble bees as well:

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Honey Bee
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Buff Tailed Bumble Bee

And, standing watching the plant as I was, I noticed other things just sheltering on the plant:

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Common Carpet Moth
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Grasshopper

So as is the case with many prejudices, my hatred of Old Man’s Beard was founded on a lack of knowledge of what it is about – this plant is not the unattractive bully I thought it was. Or, actually, if it is, then it has also got good sides that I hadn’t considered and more than earn it its place in this calcareous ecosystem.

 

 

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