What’s the best lavender?

Until recently, I assumed that all lavenders were equally as attractive to bees and other pollinators. I almost always see something feeding upon all the lavenders in my garden, and I tend not to be picky when choosing them at the garden centre.

However, new research by Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L.W. Ratnieks has found great differences in the species and cultivars. The research, published in the Functional Ecology journal, compared the attractiveness of 32 popular summer-flowering plants to pollinating insects. The most-visited plants varied over the two years of the study, with Nepeta (Catmint) Agastache (Giant hyssop), Salvia (Sage), Hyssopus (Hyssop) and various lavenders being consistently the most often visited.

It was no surprise to Pelargonium (sometimes called annual geranium) at the bottom of the list, having hardly being visited at all. It was a surprise however to see that some lavender cultivars were close to the bottom, with very few visits!

The study therefore compared the attractiveness of the different lavenders. The two main species of lavender sold in garden centres are Lavandula angustifolia and the hybrid Lavandula x intermedia . Within these species are many cultivars, for example Lavandula angustifolia ‘Arctic snow’ and Lavandula x intermedia ‘Edelweiss’. The cultivars are basically cultivated varieties of a species that have been selected and bred by horticulturalists to look a certain way.

The study found that all cultivars of Lavandula x intermedia were more attractive to pollinating insects than the Lavandula angustifolia cultivars. In fact, the most attractive L. x intermedia cultivar (‘Gros Bleu’) was almost four times more attractive than the most attractive L. angustifolia cultivars. The authors don’t provide a reason why the species vary this way.
So there you have it: if you are to buy a lavender plant, make sure it’s one of the L. x intermedia cultivars!

You can find the original research article by clicking here.

And of course you can also find out which plants we reckon are bee-friendly by visiting Bee kind.

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