Photo by Jessica Walliser
A fritillary butterfly lands on a coneflower in my garden.
I have always loved butterfly bushes. Their big panicles of flowers are magnets for butterflies of all sorts, and at a mature height of up to 6 feet, they make quite the impression. We have two butterfly bushes in our garden, one purple and one bright pink. Although the pink one hasn’t begun to flower yet, the purple one is really pumping out the blooms. It’s hard to believe that a few short months ago they were only 1 foot high and now they are nearly as tall as I am. Just today I spotted five different butterflies on the flowers. There was a red-spotted purple, a cabbage white, a skipper, a fritillary and a tiger swallowtail.
It’s been an incredible year for butterflies here in Pennsylvania. I saw more caterpillars than I have seen in a long time, and we even had a major migration of red admirals pass through this spring. It was pretty amazing to have a dozen or more of these lovely butterflies flitting about the garden at the same time. The milkweed on the side of our street was host to five or six monarch caterpillars in May, and I managed to get some nice pictures of them munching away on the leaves. I even found a question mark butterfly caterpillar on an elm seedling this spring—they are quite a sight to behold with multi-colored, branched spikes protruding from their bodies.
Even though I love my butterfly bushes, I think it’s important for us to remember not to just plant nectar sources for the butterflies. We also need to grow the larval food sources. We are loosing so many of the areas and plants these insects rely on as a larval food. Nearly all butterflies are host-specific, meaning that the caterpillars can only use one, or perhaps a handful, of plant species for their food. Learn about the butterfly species that call your backyard home and promise to plant a few larval food plants in your landscape. You might be surprised at what you’ll find!
To learn more about the insects I find in my garden, visit my website.