Native plants alone may not be the best option for pollinating insects in UK gardens

Tuesday 11 August 2015

New Royal Horticultural Society research identifies that a mix of plants from around the world may be the most effective way to sustain pollinators

• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
• Native plants are not always the first choice for pollinators visiting gardens
• Non-native plants can prolong the flowering season providing an additional food source

New research from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), with support from the Wildlife Gardening Forum, has found that pollinators in the UK do not always prefer native plants in gardens.

The findings, which are the first from the charity’s four-year Plants for Bugs research project, and are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, suggest that gardeners wishing to encourage and support pollinators should plant a mix of flowers from a wide range of geographical regions.

While there should be an emphasis on plants native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, as more pollinators from a range of pollinator groups visited these plants, plants from the southern hemisphere such as Lobelia tupa and Verbena bonariensis can play an important role. By tending to flower later than native and northern-hemisphere species, southern-hemisphere plants provide much-needed nectar and pollen long after other plants have gone to seed.

RHS scientists found that regardless of the origin of the plant (native or non-native), the more flowering plants a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater number of bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects that will visit.

Speaking about the study, RHS lead researchers Dr Andrew Salisbury and Helen Bostock said: “The UK’s 1,500 species of pollinator are thought to be under increasing pressure due to the loss of habitat and food sources. As more traditional habitats have been reduced, the role of gardens as havens for pollinators and other wildlife is growing in importance. That said, up until now the role native and non-native plants play in sustaining wildlife in gardens has been unclear and confusing.

“Now, for the first time, gardeners can access robust, evidence-based information on the most effective planting strategy they can adopt if they wish to attract and support pollinators. These findings will help gardeners to confidently pack their borders, windowboxes and allotments with flowers without getting hung up on the idea that they are somehow doing the ‘wrong thing’ if the plants are not all UK natives.”

The findings of the first Plants for Bugs paper could have far-reaching implications, not just for gardeners, but for any organisation involved in ornamental plantings, including local authorities, which have a responsibility for parks, and the landscape sector.Helen Bostock added: “Organisations that have a responsibility for green spaces, regardless of their size or location, will now be able to draw on conclusive evidence to help guide them as they work to support our pollinators.”

The publication of the complete results from the four-year Plants for Bugs study will be released at staged intervals over the coming years, as the data from the four-year study is analysed.

Subsequent RHS Plants for Bugs papers will focus on terrestrial arthropods (above-ground invertebrates) such as beetles.


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Garfield Myrie in the RHS Press Office on 020 7821 3060 or email

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit

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