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Archive for the tag “butterfly gardening”

lion’s tail


Every spring I visit my favorite nursery, where my friend, Anne, works. As a knowledgeable gardener who enjoys indulging my garden experimentation, she points out a few unfamiliar plants that she promises will deliver. This year she steered me to a plain Jane in the herb section called lion’s tail, Leonotis leonurus. I tended to it all summer, and it has finally rewarded me with these incredible blooms. Its tubular flowers are attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds.


The blooms emerge from these spikey balls. Being a South African native, it is considered an annual here. It’s a member of the mint family and is supposed to have all sorts of medicinal qualities, hence its herbal/pharmacologic classification. Given my fondness for orange, lion’s tail a new favorite. Thanks, Anne!

butterfly spotting


I can add another butterfly to my garden’s list: great spangled fritillary. I spied one as I looked out my kitchen window this morning and verified it by checking the Missouri Department of Conservation website. I love the scalloped edges along its wings; they make it look like it’s wearing a shawl. The term “fritillary” is derived from the Latin fritillus, meaning dice box. I now understand the name, given the black dots that run along the wing edges. The silvery-gray bits on the wing undersides resemble sequins–I guess that’s where the descriptor “spangled” came from. The scientist who named and classified this butterfly had some fun!


It wouldn’t rest for more than a moment, so I had a hard time getting a photo. I am enjoying “collecting” my garden’s butterflies via my little point-and-shoot camera.

painted ladies and E.O. Wilson


While I replaced nectar in the hummingbird feeders this morning, this little butterfly swooped and circled around me. I looked her up on the Missouri Department of Conservation website and learned that she is a painted lady. She was smaller than a monarch or a swallowtail, and I can’t say I ever noticed this type of butterfly before. I love the googly eyes on her hindwings.


Coincidentally, I recently read about painted ladies. Last week I finished Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson, the Pulitzer Prizewinning biologist. In a series of letter-essays, Wilson gives advice to young aspiring scientists as well as recounts his own career trajectory. While living in Washington, DC in the 1930s as a boy, he became fascinated with butterflies, collecting them and visiting the insect collections at the National Museum of Natural History. He writes,

Returning in 1940 with my family to Mobile, I plunged into the rich new fauna of butterflies. The semitropical climate and nearby swamps were a close realization of my earlier dreams. To the red admirals, painted ladies, great spangled fritillaries, and mourning cloaks characteristic of the more northern climes I added snout butterflies, Gulf fritillaries, Brazilian skippers, great purple hair streaks, and several magnificent swallowtails–giant, zebra, spicebush.

Aren’t those wonderfully descriptive names?

I enjoyed reading about Wilson’s path to entomology (his true passion is ants) and his philosophy, distilled from decades as a scientist, researcher, teacher and mentor, as to what makes a good scientist. It’s not being a math whiz (though having some mathematical competence is necessary). Rather, it’s finding what “you are interested in and that stirs passion and promises pleasure from a lifetime of devotion,” being restless and curious, and being willing to try something no one else has ever thought of or dared.

At this point in my life, it’s a little late to begin a career as a scientist! But as a citizen-scientist, I can continue to observe, marvel and learn in my own backyard.

black swallowtail butterfly


This afternoon while we were removing our rose bushes (all infected with witches broom), a female black swallowtail butterfly stopped to visit the butterfly bush–a treat! This butterfly variety likes to lay its small yellow eggs on parsley, dill, fennel and Queen’s Anne lace, all of which are in our gardens. I am hoping that she did some egg-laying while in the neighborhood–perhaps we will soon see her caterpillar offspring. At first, swallowtail caterpillars are black and spiky with a white belt around the middle. Later, they lose the spikes, turn a lovely shade of spring green, and develop a yellow and black striped pattern.

milkweed is blooming


I planted white swamp milkweed (var. Ice Ballet) in my garden a couple of years ago. Last year it was all foliage, no blooms. This year my patience has been rewarded–its beautiful clusters of white flowers have the most delicious vanilla scent.


This mallow (I think the variety is called Zebrina) comes back year after year despite it being a favorite treat of the rabbits.


After I admired the tall verbena in my friend Anne’s garden, she gave me a division last year. It blooms all summer into fall. Although this clump overwintered for me, I believe it is considered an annual here, though it self-seeds readily.

Sunday garden stroll


I am pleased that a couple of recent additions to my garden are happy in their new home. My garden friend, Anne, and I were lamenting the slow disappearance of our coneflowers. I think the voles may have gotten to mine. Anne suggested this replacement, a variety called PowWow Wild Berry. It has a beautiful vibrant pink bloom. It is supposed to grow to be 18 to 24″ tall. It meets my requirements for perennials: it is drought tolerant, attracts butterflies and has an extended blooming season.

This coreopsis (or tickseed), called Mercury Rising, is a fun departure from the usual yellow. Like the coneflower above, it is drought tolerant, blooms all summer and attracts butterflies. I like its thready foliage and red-wine blooms.


Although the white iris are now fading, others are taking their turn. There’s this lovely two-toned purple . . .


and this lemony yellow.


The lemon balm is elbowing neighboring plants out of the way. I need to do some dividing.


This white variety of milkweed has become well established. It didn’t bloom last year–I am hoping to see it this summer.


See the tall stalks with the willow-like leaves? That’s pink milkweed. I have some in the back of the bed, but when it sends off seeds, they always seem to take root in the front of the bed–not the best place for this tall lanky flower, but I haven’t the inclination to move it.


I was about to yank this little stalk out when I realized that it is bloodflower. It must have reseeded from across the garden. It’s a milkweed cousin and attractive to butterflies, so it too will be allowed to stay. Sometimes weeding procrastination pays off!

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