Published 12:37 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2012
On our field walk this past weekend, we were treated to the spectacular sight of hundreds of Liatris bloom spikes swaying in the breeze near the boardwalk in the Arboretum’s Pitcher Plant Bog. The purple spires are mixed up in a sea of pitcher plant leaves that are steadily filling up with love bugs, among tiny white polka dots of pipewort (also called lady’s hatpin) and the feathery plumes of panic grass (Panicum).
Butterfly fans will not be disappointed if they come in search of the delicate jewel-toned insects at the Arboretum in late summer. This is the time of year when the insect world rules the Savanna Exhibit. In the grasslands we have seen Gulf fritillary and monarch butterflies, common buckeyes, several species of swallowtails, skippers, and sulphurs.
One of my favorite butterflies is the giant swallowtail. It has a peculiar bouncy and restless manner of flitting about. An interesting fact is that its caterpillars look like bird droppings – a great way to avoid being eaten! Visit a site on the Internet such as Butterflies and Moths of North America (www.butterfliesandmoths.org) to view photos of these butterflies and to learn more about them.
See the fact sheet, “Attracting Butterflies to Mississippi Gardens,” at the Extension website (www.MSUcares.com), for a list that includes many native species for your garden. Butterflies require not only nectar plants such as butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, Coreopsis, ironweed, clover, and Queen Anne’s lace, but “host” plants. These are the specific plants that butterflies will lay their eggs on, for the caterpillars to consume once they hatch. For example, a spicebush swallowtail would munch on spicebush (Lindera) and a pipevine swallowtail would eat pipevine (Aristolochia). The caterpillars of monarch butterflies feast on milkweed species (Asclepias), and passion vine is famous for attracting Gulf fritillary butterflies.
Butterflies will take shelter from the wind and rain, and roost at night, in shrubs. You can provide additional shelter for them by creating a log pile in a corner of your garden. Other butterfly-friendly garden items are flat rocks where they can bask in the sun on cool mornings, wet muddy areas, and shallow water sources such as a saucer filled with pebbles and water.
When designing a butterfly garden, include both the host and nectar plants to maximize the number of butterflies you will attract. If you are lucky, your butterfly weed will become laden with the green chrysalises of monarch butterflies. These amazing structures are dotted with metallic gold dots, and will awe you as they will turn from opaque green to clear, right before the butterfly emerges. It is a transforming experience to watch the orange and black folded wings begin to move inside these structures as the insect prepares to split its chrysalis walls and unfold new wings.
The Children’s Butterfly Garden at the Arboretum is sporting a brand new look lately, thanks to the assistance of scout Nathaniel “Nate” Davis of Troop 301 in Gulfport. Very interested in nature, Nathan has earned badges in Herpetology and Insect Study. During our Wildlife Day in March, you may have seen Nathan educating visiting school groups about snakes. He was the one wearing a live boa around his neck, and surrounded by schoolchildren at the station he shared with his grandfather, Dick Whiteside, a Mississippi Master Naturalist. It is a pleasure to watch Nathan interacting with the visiting classes. The students are mesmerized by his presentation, and enjoy hearing the stories he tells about them.
Nathan’s current rank is “Star Scout,” and he chose the Arboretum’s butterfly garden as his service project that will, along with other efforts, serve to promote him to the rank of “Life Scout.” At the beginning of the project, Nathan secured a large donation of butterfly plants from “The Other Place,” a nursery in Gulfport. The plants included quite a few butterfly weed, so we hope to attract some monarchs! Nathan arrived at the Arboretum along with his younger brother Jon and several family members, and made short work of installing the butterfly plants in the raised beds of the garden area located near the Arboretum Greenhouse.
Nathan has also been compiling photos and text about common butterflies and their larval stages, otherwise known as caterpillars. This information will be used to create signs that will be posted in the garden. The signs will educate visitors about butterfly and caterpillar identification, and the host and nectar plants that are butterfly magnets.
You can learn more about butterflies and other insects at the Arboretum’s two-day Bugfest, an extravaganza of all things buggy, on September 21 and 22 (Friday and Saturday). On Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the site is open to insect collecting by school and homeschool groups (groups over 20 persons must call to pre-register for an arrival time). The cost is $2 for students, and no charge for teachers, chaperones, or bus drivers until 6 p.m. Friday after 6 p.m., and all day Saturday, cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children.
On Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to noon, children will enjoy crafts and games on the Buggy Midway. Night collecting activities will take place Friday night, and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., there will be on-going live insect demonstrations, collections, pet bugs and exhibits, and a special appearance by the New Orleans Audubon Zoo’s Bugmobile.
See our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu for more information, and to download an insect collecting manual, linked on our program calendar page. School groups may reserve an arrival time by calling (601) 799-2311. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration: Go on a butterfly hunt. Learn the names of what you find, and learn how to identify their caterpillars. Then, learn their host and nectar plants and include some of these in your garden.