Thursday, July 28, 2011


Danaus plexippus on Silphium perfoliatum
 My friend Don was over in my yard yesterday, responding to a request to do some "professional quality" photos of my friend Chris Hopp's (of Farmbrook Designs) hypertufa designs and maybe check out some native plants in bloom as well.  Don stops by every few days as things are happening pretty fast in the garden these days - especially with the heat and the rain (can you believe it - in July?!?!?)

Anyway, I received an e-mail from Don yesterday evening with photos of the beautiful troughs and fountain I've gotten from Chris (I think a lantern is in my future, by the way) and included in the e-mail were two images of butterflies, one of a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) in my Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) in my Joe Pye (Eupatorium purpureum).  Don didn't mention anything about where they were taken and I'm always hesitant to get too excited (it seems to have been a rough year for butterflies - I just haven't seen as many of the monarchs and have not found any to raise, unlike this time last year).  So, when I got the e-mail this morning that, yes, indeed, these were photographed in my garden, I was ecstatic.

Papilio glaucus on Eupatorium purpureum
Although they're beautiful, butterflies, both as caterpillars and adults, are important players in our natural system.  They, along with moths, bees, flies, bats and other animals, are critical pollinators, especially for native plants.  As caterpillars, they are an important food source for our native birds, which, regardless as to whether they're insect, fruit or seed eaters as adults, are feeding their young on native insects.  One caterpillar is packed with more protein and other key nutrients than a similar mass of ground beef, which makes it a pretty good meal for a baby Robin.

Nor is it enough to have lots of great nectaring plants for the butterflies; you also have to have the host plants on which the caterpillars can feed.  Whereas a butterfly can nectar on pretty much anything, they are very exclusive in terms of their host plants.  For Monarchs, it's native milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)  For Eastern Tiger Swallowtail it's Wild Cherry, Hop Tree, Ash and Tulip Tree - again, all native plants.  Although I have five species of native milkweed, I've lost my Ash tree to Emerald Ash Borer and don't have any of the other species at this time.

I'm not home much during the day this time of year, as I'm frequently gardening for clients.  Or running around on other business for my various enterprises.  So I don't often have the time to see who might be hanging around in the garden.  So, considering all this, I guess it makes some sense that I was so excited about the members of Lepidoptera (the insect class to which all butterflies and moths belong) visiting my yard yesterday afternoon.

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