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MOUNTAIN MINT IS A BUTTERFLY FAVORITE

 

       If you are looking for a native plant that is popular with butterflies and other native pollinators, you should consider mountain mint.

       In case you are not familiar with mountain mint, chances are you can spot it growing along a country road.  The plants stand upwards of three or more feet tall.  Although it is nondescript, it can easily be identified from a distance.  The leaves surrounding the flowers will appear as if they were sprinkled with powdered sugar.  This makes the blossoms seem to be much larger than they really are.

       The small, whitish blossoms are formed in clusters.  The plant blooms from June through August.

       While recently participating in a butterfly count on the Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area in Talbot County, I found mountain mint blooming in profusion.  If fact, I have never seen more mountain mint in one place.  Much to the delight of the folks taking part in the count, the mountain mint proved to be a butterfly favorite.  Among the butterfly species I personally spotted on mountain mint on that hot, humid August day were gulf fritillary, long-tailed skipper, pearl crescent, eastern tiger swallowtail, and pipevine swallowtail.

       Fortunately, this perennial native plant can be easily grown in backyard settings.  However, I need to tell you mountain mint can rapidly spread by rhizomes.  Consequently, plant mountain mint in an area where it will not crowd out other plants.  

       In the wild, mountain mint is often found growing along woodland edges, old fields and along roads where the vegetation is not regularly mowed.

       Mountain mint does well a variety soil types.  However, sites need to receive sunlight for at least half a day. In addition, mountain mint can withstand dry conditions.

 

 

THE GRAY HAIRSTREAK DISPLAYS SUBTLE BEAUTY

One of the most common butterflies you are likely to see in your backyard is the gray hairstreak.  Although this small (1-1.5″) butterfly is predominantly gray, I think it possesses its own form of subtle beauty. 

It has been my experience that you will rarely spot this butterfly with its wings spread open.  If you do, however, its wings will be colored slate gray.  This most distinguishing feature displayed on each hindwing is an eyespot consisting of a black dot surrounded by an elongated orange splotch…

To me, the butterfly is far more beautiful when viewed with its wings closed.  The underside of each hindwing is light gray and also marked with an orange and red eye spot.  However, you will quickly see notice a white line bordered in black meandering across both the hind and forewing.

Each hindwing features a short, slender hairlike appendage.  If you look closely, you will see the butterfly moving their wings back and forth.  It is thought that the eyespots and constantly moving “hairs” on the tail are designed to confuse predators.  Supposedly, a predator will strike at the butterfly’s hindwings instead of dealing a deadly blow to its head and body.

The first flight of the hairstreak appears in February.  The last gray hairstreaks of the year are spotted in early November.

The gray hairstreak has a number of plant hosts including partridge pea, beggarweed, bush clover, and vetch.

 

BUTTERFLIES AND AIRPLANES WARM UP BEFORE TAKING TO THE AIR

 

Recently while I was taking a morning walk before the temperature began to soar; a female eastern tiger swallowtail slowly flew in front of me.  In fact, the large butterfly seemed to glide more than fly.  When she did beat her wings, they flapped slowly.  As I watched, the butterfly landed on the leaves of a nearby shrub.  She chose to land in a spot that was bathed by the light of the rising sun.  Upon landing she kept her wings outstretched and remained motionless for quite some time.

This butterfly was warming up.   This something each butterfly does every day of its life.  Like an airplane, before it can fly efficiently, it must warm up.

The butterfly is a cold-blooded animal.  This means that it cannot control its body temperate such as warm-blooded animals like you and me.  Consequently a butterfly’s body temperature reflects the air temperature.  In comparison, our body temperature remains constant at all times.

The next time you are out and about on a sunny, cool morning be on the lookout for basking sites.  Once you find one, you can often find butterflies there day after day,

In the case of the butterfly, most are not seen flying about when the temperature dips below 55˚F.  In fact the ideal temperature for butterflies to be winging about is roughly between 80 and 100˚F.

When the temperature is below this zone the insect’s flight muscles are not capable of contracting as quickly as they are when temperatures are high.  In addition, butterflies expend more energy moving their flight muscles when it is colder.

Since butterflies need to start moving about as quickly as possible to escape predators and find food and mates, it behooves them to take to the air as soon as they can each day.

One way they are able to do this is to take advantage of the warming effects of solar energy.  The butterfly that drifted to a nearby bush in front me was doing just that.  She positioned herself to maximize the amount of solar radiation striking her wings and body.  This would allow her to begin daily activities much sooner than would have been possible if she perched in the shade.

Dark butterflies, such as the female eastern tiger swallowtail, are able to fly sooner in the day than butterflies that are lighter in color.  The reason for this is darker colors absorb more solar energy than light colors.

As you can see, one of the best times to watch or photograph butterflies in your backyard is early in the morning.  During this special time of day if you find a basking butterfly, it will often remain motionless longer than it would if you found it in your garden later in the day.  As long as you do not disturb a basking butterfly, you can take pictures of it to your heart’s content.

You can create additional butterfly basking sites by placing large, flat, dark-colored stones about your garden and yard.

 

 

THE PEARL CRESCENT IS A BUTTERFLY SUCCESS STORY

I recently participated in the annual Fourth of July Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count.  Some 64 different species of butterflies were seen during the survey.  Out of the kaleidoscope of species seen by the 18 volunteers taking part in the count, the butterfly spotted most often was the pearl crescent.

       Seeing the name of the pearl crescent atop this list came as no surprise.  The pearl crescent is one of the most common butterflies seen throughout the state.  The success of this medium-small butterfly (1.25-1.60″) is closely linked to the fact it is a generalist.  By that I mean it prospers in a wide variety of habitats including forest edges, fields, roadsides, clearcuts, and open woodlands.  In addition, this butterfly does well in both urban and rural habitats.  As such, chances are excellent that the pearl crescent might very well be one of the most abundant butterflies in your backyard too.

       I usually see my first pearl crescent in my backyard in late March.  However, depending upon where you live in the state, you might see one as early as February.  Once you spot your first pearl crescent in the spring, you could easily see them into November.

       The pearl crescent will nectar on a variety of plants.  In my backyard, I often see it nectaring on black-eyed susan blossoms. In fact, it seems to feed there more often on these stunnng yellow blooms than other butterflies.

       In your backyard, male pearl crescents can often be seen flying about looking for females.  You will also see pearl crescents perched on leaves or the tips of stems with their wings outstretched basking in the sun.

       One of the things I always look for when I first spot a pearl crescent-sized butterfly from a distance is whether the butterfly is repeatedly opening and closing its wings.  If I see this behavior, invariably the butterfly proves to be a pearl crescent.

       Asters serve as the pearl crescent’s host plant.                 

       The next time that you spot a pearl crescent take the time to closely study it.  If you do, I am sure that you will discover the orange and black pattern displayed on its wings truly beautiful.

10 BACKYARD TREES THAT ARE BUTTERFLY HOST PLANTS

       Interest in butterfly gardening is at an all time high throughout the Peach State.  At one time, his activity was one-dimensional. If a homeowner wanted to attract butterflies to their yard, they planted flowers that produced an abundance of nectar. However, in recent years butterfly gardening has taken on a new dimension. Nowadays people that are serious butterfly gardeners also incorporate butterfly larval host plants into their landscape designs.

       However, many homeowners do not realize that some of the trees growing in their yards are also butterfly host plants.  Here is a list of ten such trees and the butterflies that use them as hosts.

Eastern Red Cedar   Juniper Hairstreak

Yellow Poplar  – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Hackberry – Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, American Snout

Sassafras  – Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Palamedes Swallowtail

Redbud – Henry’s Elfin

Flowering Dogwood – Spring Azure

Willow – Viceroy

Winged Elm –  Question Mark

Water Oak – White M Hairstreak

Black Cherry – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple

 

THREE OF THE VERY BEST PLANTS TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

Here is my list of the three plants that should give you the best chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard this summer.

LANTANA – The variety I prefer is Miss Huff.  This cultivar will produce flowers from late spring into fall.  Additionally, it will survive winter when the thermometer plummets into the single digits.

RUBYTHROAT VISITING MISS HUFF LANTANA

Miss Huff will reach a height of four to five feet and will spread outward as far as you will allow it.

Throughout most summers, Miss Huff does not require any water.  In fact, if you give it too much water, it will produce an abundance of foliage and fewer flowers.

The plant is carefree during the growing season.  However, the tall canes should be removed over the winter.

BUTTERFLY BUSH – This shrub is a great addition to practically any yard.  Although most butterfly bushes bear flowers ranging in color from purple, white, orange, yellow, to almost black.

In addition, miniature varieties can be grown in planters.  This offers those of you that do not have very large yards or live in condominiums the opportunity to attract hummers and butterflies to your patios or other small spaces.

Deadheading spent blooms encourages the shrubs to continue producing crops of flowers all summer long.

In winter, it is a good idea to cut the shrubs back within a foot to a foot and a half of the ground.

Butterflies will nectar on butterfly bushes more often than will hummingbirds.

ZINNIAS – Zinnias are an old time garden favorites that are still extremely popular among gardeners.  Butterflies seem to prefer flat-topped varieties as opposed to those with rounded flowers.

Plant this annual in bunches, as butterflies seem to be attracted more to mass plantings over single flowers planted here and there.

Deadhead the flowers and the plants will produce a new crop.

After flowering season has passed, do not cut down the spent plants.  American goldfinches and other birds will eat the dry zinnia seeds.

 

 

SPRING PLANTING TO ATTRACT BLACK SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES

This is the time of year when backyard wildlife enthusiasts are hard at work gardening for wildlife.  If you enjoy butterflies, you are probably sowing seeds or setting out plants that will attract these flying flowers.

For years, the goal of these efforts has been providing adult butterflies with dependable sources of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible.  Nowadays butterfly gardeners are also planting host plants for these beautiful insects.

Host (also called caterpillar) plants are the plants that provide food butterfly caterpillars.  While as a general rule, butterflies will eat nectar from a wide variety of sources, they only lay their eggs one a small number of plants. If a butterfly’s host plant(s) are not available in your yard or neighborhood, they will not lay their eggs there and your chances of seeing that particular species is reduced.

With that in mind, savvy butterfly gardeners are incorporating host plants into their gardens.  Fortunately, it is extremely easy to provide the host plants used by the black swallowtail.

Black swallowtails lay their eggs on plants that are members of the Apiaceae family, which includes Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, fennel, parsley, and celery.

If you go ahead and plant any of these species in your yard right now, you have an excellent chance of having them used by black swallowtails this year.

Here is a planting tip:  plant a bunch of whatever plants you choose.  If you don’t, should a female black swallowtail lay her eggs on your plantings, the voracious caterpillars could easily eat the plants up before they become established.