Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sweets for the Sweet

Images: Monarch on a zinnia. Giant Swallowtail on phlox. Black Swallowtail on bee balm. Eight Spotted Forester Moth on a cone flower. Red Admiral on globe thistle.

All pictures of the butterflies and the moth were taken in my garden. My point being: "If you build it, they will come."

I didn't start out my gardens with the thought of making them just for butterflies. It's been a natural result of not using pesticides, using many native Illinois plants, and letting my yard be rather unkempt. My little spot in this world is not a perfect butterfly garden but I'd like to share some things that seem to be working.
  1. Nectar: I have cone flowers, bee balm, liatris, clover, butterfly bush, globe thistle, phlox and zinnia. Butterflies like many other things but are regulars on these plants. While visiting the butterfly house at the St. Louis zoo, I saw plates of very ripe fruit and juice. I'm giving it a try but think you need to make sure it stays moist and is on the south side of ripe. Bananas and citrus slices and other soft fruit such as peaches seem to work best. They can't have rind or membrane blocking their access.

  2. Water: I have bird baths and other shallow sources of water. Most days when I water my hanging baskets, I also water down some old field stones and sand that sit in the sun and hold water in the holes and dips. Butterflies need to sit in the sun to limber up their wings in the morning.
  3. Host plants: I plant some perennials and herbs with the idea that I will be sharing some of their leaves with the caterpillars. Rue, dill, hollyhocks, milkweed, and ornamental cabbage to name a few.
  4. Shade/shelter: This is where the unkempt come in handy. They have places they can roost and hide. Things like brush piles, fallen leaves, bushes and tall trees. I remember a few years ago when one complete end of a walnut tree branch was totally massed with migrating monarchs. It was an awesome sight. I felt quite blessed to have my tree chosen for that evening's resting place.
  5. As a side note: I have noticed a huge decrease in the number of monarchs this year. My reading leads me to believe it was the severe storms in their winter homes that had a impact on their survival. Perhaps they will rebound - we can only hope.
Given the right circumstances and the right personalities, butterflies will put on an aerial show and may even land on your shoulder for a little visit.

A comfortable chair or glider in the garden will provide a great place to have that morning cup of coffee, afternoon glass of iced tea, or evening glass of wine. While you are sitting contemplating the beauty of your flowers, you just might have the visit from one of our Illinois butterflies.

"In joy or in sadness, flowers are our constant friends." Kazuko Okakura

If you have a membership to "Dave's Gardens" www.davesgarden.com check out the current article on "Raising Butterflies-Member Methods" by Marna Towne. It also has pictures of various caterpillars and a small list of their host plants.

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