The trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) is a plant sometimes seen growing in brushy fencerows, and around older homes. It has long green thorns and bears golf ball –size, fragrant fruit. This plant is native to China.
With that in mind, you might be surprised to learn that it is a giant swallowtail host plant.
Throughout this summer’s unprecedented heart wave, many of the plants my wife and I have planted for pollinators are requiring regular watering. Such has not been the case with a native plant named mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum ssp.). We have not watered our three patches of mountain mint a single time. In spite of this, the plants in all three spots have flourished and are attracting more pollenators than other plant growing in our yard.
This was dramatically illustrated week when we participated in the Great Southeast Pollinator Count. We selected the two plants (mountain-mint and butterfly bush to survey. During the 15-minute count at the mountain mint plants, 39 individual pollinators were recorded. This list included bumblebee – 1, carpenter bee – 2, small bees – 2, wasps – 8, flies – 7, butterflies – 18, and ant -1.
We saw two juniper hairstreaks and 16 red-banded hairstreaks. To put this in perspective, the day before I surveyed butterflies on the Annual Fall Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count. In spite of the fact that the team I was assigned to spent 7.5 hours in the field and walked some 2.2 while visiting a number of sites scattered across much of the eastern side of Monroe County and a small piece of Jasper County, we spotted only three red-banded hairstreaks.
The value of mountain-mint to wild pollinators has been long recognized. For example, Penn State conducted a research project to determine the value of a number of pollinator plants o wild pollinators found mountain-mint to be the plant most attractive to these special insects. In addition, it tied with stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) for the top spot for its ability to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators.
This fragrant plant grows up to six feet tall. The plants blooms appear in clusters of small white to lavender tubular-shaped flowers arranged on a button-like base. Each flower cluster is surrounded by a cluster of bracts (modified leaves) that appeared to be covered with flour or powdered sugar. In addition, it blooms for weeks during the summer.
Mountain-mint is easy to grow. Like most folks that have it growing in their yards, a friend gave me, a handful of plants several years ago. They did not produce any flowers the first year they were in the ground but have bloomed ever since.
Keep in mind that the plant spreads rapidly, so place put it in a spot where it has room to spread. If they do venture into areas where you don’t want them, they can be easily controlled.
Like so many plants, they seem to attract more pollinators when planted in large groupings. This is in partly because a large number of plants are more easily seen by pollinators. In addition, larger patches of plants such as mountain-mint produce scents that can be more easily detected by potential visitors. This appears to be particularly true in urban areas suffering from air pollution.
If you do not have a friend or two that is willing to give you a few mountain-mint plants, I am sure that a nursery that deals in native plants can provide you with all that you need.
One the average, a female monarch butterfly lays 300-500 eggs during her lifetime. However, the record number eggs laid by a single monarch are 1,175.
Recently I came across two twin-spot skippers (oliguria maculata) in Monroe County. Although the butterfly was first described in 1865, remarkably little is known about it.
This is one of the easiest skippers to identify. It displays three white spots on the ventral side of its hindwing. However, two of the spots are located very close to one another. These are often referred two as the twins. For some reason, the third spot is sometimes called the other sibling. However, in the hallowed halls of academia, some taxonomists have long argued the butterfly should be renamed the three-spotted skipper. However, as of now, their augments have fallen on deaf ears.
One of the mysteries swirling around this butterfly is why it has been documented from only 22 counties in Georgia. Its primary range extends northward from Florida is our coastal counties. It is also listed as being found away from the coast in Screven and Richmond counties of the side of the state; Atkinson and Grady counties is South Georgia; Harris, Meriwether and Coweta counties in west-central Georgia; as well as Houston, Bibb, Crawford, Upson, Monroe, Butts, and Jones counties in central Georgia.
Whenever I see a distribution map such as this, unless an organism lives in a very specific habitat is only found in isolated spots, something else may be the responsible for such a patchy distribution. In this case, it may simply because the folks living in other counties have simply not reported seeing it. They it may be regularly spotting it in their counties. However, they may not realize the importance of their sightings.
It is also interesting to note that lepidopterists know very little about which plants serve as host plants for the small butterfly. About all we know is It has recently been suggested that twin-spotted skippers use bluestem grasses as host plants.
It is impossible for formal butterfly surveys to be conducted across the entire state. That is where we all can help by service as citizen scientists. With millions of Georgians carrying around a smart phone most of the time, if they just happen to run across a twin-spotted skipper in a backyard or elsewhere, they should snap a photo of it. Then record the date and location of the sighting and send me the photo and information. I will send to the folks that keep track of such things.
If you go looking for this butterfly, here is a tip that might help you locate one. For some reason, twin-spotted skippers are often seen nectaring on thistle blossoms.