Thursday, January 26, 2012

Butterfly garden

     It was actually nice today, both sunny and unseasonably warm, a little preview of spring.  And I was stuck at my desk or in meetings all day.  Bummer.
Red admiral, Mexican bush sage
     But the winter gray and innumerable meetings can't stop me from daydreaming about butterflies.  I'm thinking I need to renovate my butterfly garden, so I'm daydreaming about what new plants to buy.  The "butterfly garden" is a bit of a misnomer, at least right now.  It was the first garden I put in.  Less than a year after we moved into this house, hurricane Isabelle took out several fruit trees (and many other trees) and left a big hole in the landscape.  I had almost zero previous gardening experience and my husband didn't have any more than me.  If we were going to learn by doing, we were not going to waste our efforts on figuring out how to install boring lawn.  So we decided on a butterfly garden, and all through that winter I made ridiculously intricate and overwrought plans for every square inch of it.  Since I knew nothing at all, none of it was practical.  For a few years it was the only big bed of our own making and so ended up being the place to put all the experiments, butterfly related or not. What's there now is the result of natural selection.  I'll keep everything that's doing well, but there are some times when not much is in bloom, so it's time to start scheming.
Gray hairstreak on Abelia grandiflora
     Meanwhile, we've put in another garden in full sun that has lots of flowers that do attract butterflies.  I chose a Glossy Abelia for this spot specifically because I read that it's a host plant for Tiger Swallowtails.  I don't recall seeing too many Tigers, but its blossoms attract plenty of butterflies.  This year, that included Gray Hairstreaks like this one and our yard's first Pipevine Swallowtail.  I don't grow any pipevines, so I guess it was just a passing visitor.  Hmm, maybe I should grow a pipevine in the renovated butterfly garden....
     Lots of butterflies don't really come for nectar but have other less pretty tastes.  We did get great looks of a Tiger Swallowtail lingering for a long time on a pile of raccoon droppings.  I will spare you the pictures.  Isabel spared a pear tree which produces more than enough pears for us every year, so I leave some on the tree.  A stroll under the pear tree in August or September can produce an explosion of Red-spotted purples, Question Marks, Tawny Emperors and Hackberry Emperors that are imbibing on fermenting fruit.
Hackberry Emperor

     We have hackberry trees in our yard and I would not want to be without them.  Perhaps they are not the most attractive tree to a gardener's eye, but for the butterflies and birds there's almost nothing better.  
     The next photo is a butterfly that was not only a first for my garden, but the first I've ever seen, a Juniper hairstreak.  The host plant is the Eastern Redcedar, which I do have, but I've read they are usually found around "stands" of redcedar.  I don't think there's anything on my property I would characterize as a stand, but there are lots of redcedars in the area.
Juniper hairstreak

Checkered skipper on Verbena bonariensis
     Here's a before-and-after if I've identified the caterpillar correctly.  I think this is the caterpillar of the Checkered Skipper. As you can see, they like to eat mallows, including Seashore Mallow (Kosteletskya virginica).  
Kosteletskya virginica
I think these fuzzy skippers are pretty cute and I always look for them once the wild mistflower blooms (Eupatorium coelestinum is what I think it is) in late August or early September.  Right up until I was composing this post I was thinking there was some link between the Checkered Skipper and the Mistflower, but I think I'm a little dim.  The host plant is enough to explain the timing.  The Checkered Skipper caterpillar eats the blossoms -- not the leaves -- of the mallow, as you can see in the photo.  I first see a large number of adults in my yard about a month after the Seashore Mallow is in peak bloom.  I'm not sure if these eat other mallows in my yard as well, but the other mallows I have also are late-blooming perennials. 

     This last butterfly even knows garden design.  See the color echo?  If only I could ask her for help in redesigning my garden.

Common Buckeye on "Sheffield Pink" mums


  1. You've attracted quite a few butterflies to your garden! Congratulations! I started a butterfly garden once, and unfortunately, it was soon in shade due to some growing trees. Now my 'butterfly garden' is my 'winter garden'! I bet you can expect to see many more butterflies in your garden this year. Loved seeing the photos of the Juniper hairstreak. I don't think I've ever seen it before. Great pics.

  2. Oh, and welcome to the worlds of gardening and blogging! You sure had a nice assortment of butterflies last summer! I am going to follow your blog, and look forward to seeing what happens in your garden this season.

    I have been gardening for most of my life, and have found joy in learning new things along the way. A lot of my plants are for the butterflies and birds. I was tickled to see hummingbirds almost daily once they were in the area this past summer.

    We had to have a tree removed from our front yard last spring, and I am in the process of finding mostly native plants to grow in the area.

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks so much for visiting. I grew up in the city and it when I was a kid my biggest wish was to have a backyard someday. When I finally "grew up" and got one, I had to learn everything about gardening from scratch, so I'm way behind lifetime gardeners like you. But that's OK, because I still feel like a kid having fun playing in the dirt. I especially get a lot of joy out of learning about this little piece of the world, so I enjoy native plants a lot, for their own sakes and also because I love when little critters like birds and butterflies seem to feel at home in my garden.

  3. These are beautiful photos...I host a meme called NATURE NOTES on Wednesdays.. it is very very small and all it requires is a post about something in nature if you are ever interested..

    1. Thanks. Your meme sounds pretty interesting. Not sure if I'll be able to pull something together for tomorrow, but definitely sometime soon. ....Thanks for visiting my blog and for all your great comments.

  4. Your butterfly picture are awesome! I was excited to see the Juniper hairstreak. I have a single native cedar tree in my garden so perhaps that's what attracted it. I also find buckeyes in the garden, too. Some of the little butterflies move so fast I can barely identify them, let alone photograph them! I'm impressed you were able to do both! :o)

    1. Thanks. I don't always get such good views but every once in a while a butterfly will be so occupied with a particular shrub or stand of flowers that it will stay around long enough to get a few decent shots. I like the field guide "Butterflies Through Binoculars" for identifying them. I went through and made a mark on the plates of the species that are possible for my area (using the maps in the book) which really helps narrow it down. But I don't think I'm ever going to learn all the little grass skippers.