Sunday, October 11, 2015

Planning for Butterflies

 October 11, 2015

35.1° here on the mountain, windless, quiet. I have been thinking about how many fewer butterflies we have seen this summer and am searching for resources that will help me improve what we grow for flowers that will entice more butterflies. As with honeybees, there are many variables that impact on the health of butterflies. First we need to understand those variables and then monitor our progress. This past spring for example, I intentionally planted a large number of tithonia to serve as a monarch magnet. I really hoped for the best. The bright, fiery red-orange tithonia, 

sometimes known as Mexican sunflower,  did very well but the monarch count at the end of this summer was still only three. This is a sad commentary for sure!

Part of being successful requires knowing what the butterflies feed on and what their host plants are. This process takes some time. Perhaps five years back I became interested in a wonderful late summer plant named turtlehead or chelone. I had seen the flower at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden and started to plant it here and there to try to get a sense of gardener's reaction here in Vermont. We do this when trying to decide what flowers to offer. After planting some turtlehead, it took a couple years but I began seeing a butterfly I did not know. It was the Baltimore Checkerspot. Here are pictures of the butterfly and the caterpillar. 

As I continue to try to match butterflies and food and host sources, a few more butterflies appear.  Here are a couple on-line resources 

that may help you identify some butterflies you see and at the same time better understand what crops you should be planting to make them happy in your neighborhood.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog woke me after hearing an as yet unknown critter walked outside the back door. My guess is the bears are back.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook on a personal George Africa page.
On Facebook as a Like Page Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens.
On various other social sites related to horticulture.