Nettles
 

  Be Nice to Nettles Week
  a CONE initiative
Nettles
 
“Delicious nutritious nettles, bring to mind sunny childhood play days, excellent as an additive to compost and essential for some many caterpillars.

Thank you CONE for raising the profile and improving the reputation of this wild plant, and thanks alike to all who grow them in their garden for butterflies.”

Helen Firminger
Project Manager, London Wildlife Trust Centre for Wildlife Gardening

 

 
 
 

Nettles and Wildlife

The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for wildlife in the UK.

The nettle supports over 40 species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies.

This may seem strange given the stinging power of the nettle but it is the presence of the stings that has allowed the relationship with numerous insect species to develop. The stinging hairs of the nettle developed as a defence against grazing animals. So effective are they that few grazers , with the exception of goats and hungry sheep, will touch nettles when the stings are active. This makes the ideal habitat for insects as there is little danger of the adult insects or larvae ending up in the stomach of a cow! Insects can also move between the spines without activating the sting.

The most notable nettle patch inhabitants are the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly larvae which feed in large groups hidden in silken tents at the top of the nettle stems.

Many nettle patches hold overwintering aphids which swarm around the fresh spring growth and provide an early food source for ladybirds. These same aphids are eaten in large numbers by blue tits and other woodland birds agile enough to dart around the stems.

In late summer the huge quantity of seed produced provide a food source for many of our seed eating birds.

It can be seen that the nettle plays a very important role for both rural and urban wildlife - indeed some of the insect species such as the nettle weevil live only in the nettle patch. Hopefully we can start to look at the nettle patch in a different light and pause a while to admire its effective survival strategy.

Nettles and WildlifeButterflies of the nettle patch
Take a look at some the nymphalid butterflies that depend on nettles.
Nettles and PeopleMoths of the nettle patch
Not forgetting their cousins the moths!

 

 
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Did you know?
Cloth made from nettle fibres was used as a substitute for cotton to produce German Army uniforms during the First World War.
 
 
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