We start a series focusing on plants that are particularly attractive to bees
THE ICE PLANT
Sedum spectabile, is an old cottage garden favourite and has long been known for its attraction to butterflies. It is, however, equally popular with bees, and has the advantage of flowering in the late summer when many other garden species are starting to go over. Be careful, though – not all ice plants are created equal, and some varieties seem to be almost completely ignored by insects, possibly as a result of scent or nectar production having been inadvertently bred out in favour of colour.
Though not native to the British Isles, the ice plant is part of a large, worldwide family – the Crassulaceae – and some of its close relatives are indigenous to these shores. Perhaps the commonest of these is biting stonecrop or wall pepper, a low-growing, fleshy succulent found on sand dunes, shingle beaches, walls and pavements. It is also found on roofs, which may account for is delightful alternative name of ‘welcome-home-husbandthough-never-so-drunk’.
Biting stonecrop and its relatives, including the houseleek, Sempervivum, are enjoying an upsurge in popularity as a component of green roofs. Houseleek was originally planted on roofs to ward off lightning, though it is now more likely to be used for its drought tolerance and ability to grow in the shallowest of soils. Luckily the ice plant is equally hardy and will tolerate most soil conditions. Just try to avoid prolonged waterlogging.
Even the dead flower heads are quite attractive, certainly enough to leave them intact through into the winter for a bit of vertical interest when everything else is dying down. You will see the tight rosettes of next year’s growth forming at the base and water collecting between the leaves like beads of glass. As part of your last-minute tidying up before spring arrives, snip off the dead stalks and the new growth will soon emerge to replace them.