Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Butterflies Are All Around!

It's been difficult to do much in the garden lately with the heat advisories we've had in east central Illinois. Our helpers have added mulch to the raised beds on the east side and mulched the paths. I'm not sure how they did even that without collasping with heatstroke!

Some of the annuals, especially the vinca and the salvia, are bravely blooming like crazy in their heatstruck pots, but some plants are showing signs of fatigue. The shrubs are holding up well, however, and the tall white panicles of the Hydrangea paniculata tardiva are still quite showy.

This is the peak time for a visitor to the garden who doesn't mind full sun, blazing heat, and high humidity: the butterflies! A friend of mine lives in the western part of the Carolinas border in an old apple orchard where she gardens extensively. She sent me the photos I'm including in today's post. Thanks, Viv!
I've always loved butterflies for their colorful patterns, their grace, their reminder of the precious but brief gift of life itself. There are lots of plants that attract butterflies to a garden. Butterfly bushes, for example, of the genus Buddleia are wonderful for bringing them in with their long slender clusters of purple or blue blossoms.

We used to have an entire row of them along the east side outside the fence. Every year I would prune them down to about 10 inches in the early spring, but last year someone doing some cleanup work for us cut them back to the ground in the fall and, sadly, most haven't returned. Fortunately, we have a nice dark purple one (Black Knight) near the front door and a new dwarf one in a raised bed, just added this spring.
In an earlier garden at another location, I had some of the annual bloodflower milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), and when we moved some plants, the seeds traveled with us. At one time, they were all over the garden -- and so were the Monarch butterflies as a result. It was delightful. Too bad the plants reseeded so heavily that we had to do some weeding and wound up losing them. There are two hybrid milkweeds that are well behaved: Asclepias tuberosa. I used to have one, a nice short orange version of a prairie plant, and there is a yellow one as well called "Hello Yellow."
A number of different butterflies show up here in the garden from time to time. The Tiger Swallowtail, with its extravagant sharp-tipped wing ends, like the one in Viv's photo is a frequent guest. We also have lots of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, the small sulphur yellows, and the little Cabbage Whites. We still get Monarchs, but not as many as we  used to. I don't know if that has to do with the corn pesticide that affects them being used in fields around here or not. The darker Eastern Swallowtail visits too at times.
Of course, back when my husband and I were still nimble enough to keep them from jumping over the fence, we used to take the cats into the garden and they loved to chase butterflies. But the butterflies are very quick and the cats were usually disappointed after a brief but exciting moment or two of pursuit.

One time David and I saw a Giant Swallowtail in a nature preserve on vacation. It looks just like the Tiger but very very large and impressive.

Some of the same annuals that attract butterflies also attract hummingbirds: salvia, petunias, fuschias, callibrachoas, as well as perennials like lilies and the dropmore scarlet honeysuckles, among others.

Butterflies are the incarnation of summer delight, aren't they? Do you have butterflies in your garden?


  1. Susan, this was a delightful read..and beautiful to the eye as well. I've noticed a variety of butterflies this summer, more than usual here in Illinois. However, not near as many as you've highlighted in the terrific article.

  2. Lovely post and beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing. :)