During last week’s Bugfest event, an exhibitor pointed out the amazing transformation taking place right under our noses — gulf fritillary caterpillars steadily munching on the passion flower vine in our Children’s Butterfly Garden. While another person may have passed by the sight, this eagle-eyed entomology buff knew this plant’s value to the insects and had taken a closer look after spotting this vine.
Gulf fritillary caterpillars feed exclusively on species of Passiflora, while the butterflies will sip nectar from a variety of blooms. Standing under the plant, we could see that what at first had appeared to be a curling leaf was actually a newly-formed chrysalis.
This particular chrysalis is mundane in appearance compared to the bright orange caterpillar that constructs it. In addition to the bright coloring, these caterpillars are covered in thorny black spikes. While they may appear menacing, the spines are really soft to the touch. The bright orange color serves as a warning to birds and other creatures that might consider making a meal of the caterpillar that it is toxic, thus providing it with protection from predators.
Species in our Children’s Butterfly Garden that provide nectar for “gulf frits” and other species of butterflies include purple coneflower, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, stokes aster, coral honeysuckle, butterfly weed, firespike, cigar plant, fire bush, lantana, Pentas, coral bean, Vinca, and butterfly bush. Many hands have helped to build this garden, and install the plants seen here.
A community grant in 2009 from Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne at Stennis Space Center funded an additional portion of raised beds that were constructed by Arboretum staff and volunteers, and Pearl River County Master Gardeners. This area includes a memorial bench for local librarian Happi Stewart, the “Little Listeners’ Librarian”, a gift from her children.
Arboretum volunteer Amy LeMien Nichols coordinates both our routine garden maintenance and new projects within the Children’s Garden. She is often assisted by Terry Fulford and James Fulford, who regularly volunteer their time in the garden. Other volunteers join in from time to time, and are essential to keep the area in shape.
Amy was very excited to see many visitors strolling through the Children’s Garden over our two day Bugfest event. We encourage you to check back from time to time, as other projects are planned for this garden area. One is to create signs identifying the plants attractive to butterflies, both the host plants (those plants that eggs are laid on and are then eaten by caterpillars) and nectar plants. Signs will be installed identifying common butterflies and their larval form – otherwise known as caterpillars.
Another ongoing project is the creation of several raised beds that will be planted with heirloom strawberries. This is a nod to the time when our 64 acre site was a Depression-era strawberry farm measuring a square mile of land that stretched westward across the area that is now interstate.
One recent addition to the Arboretum’s butterfly garden was a bottle tree installed by Master Naturalist Dick Whiteside, as part of a Scout project carried out by his grandson Nathan. Previously, the Whitesides constructed two arbors for the garden and collected donated butterfly plants such as butterfly weed, passion vine, and lantana that were planted in the raised beds. They also donated and installed other elements such as wind chimes and garden art.
A search on the Web will yield a variety of instructions for creating bottle trees, for example, creating one made entirely of rebar, or one using a wooden post as a base, similar to our structure. You may even find the perfect branch or even an expired tree you can reuse. Particularly attractive are bottle trees that are designed for evening use, by weaving strands of lights in between the bottles.
For more information on butterflies common to our area and how to attract them to your garden, visit the MSU Extension website at www.MSUcares.com. Enter the key word “butterflies’ to see many articles including Information sheet 1661 on “Butterfly Plants and Mississippi Butterflies”. This is an excellent short guide to nectar and host plants as well as the area’s common butterflies. Take it with you for shopping at your local garden center.
Join us this Friday, October 4 from 11a.m. to noon to learn how to “Express Yourself with Garden Art”, with Dr. Gary Bachman, MSU associate horticulture professor and Host of Southern Gardening. Dr. Bachman will show you how your garden can be the perfect setting for having a little fun with garden art. Perhaps you have seen a bed frame planted with flowering annuals, also called a “flower bed.” Bring a sandwich and make a date with a friend for Friday lunch at the Arboretum. The program is free to members, and $5 for non-members. Guarantee your seat by calling the office to register in advance.
Calling all Mississippi teachers and homeschool educators! Register for a free Project Learning Tree teachers’ workshop this Saturday, October 5 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (courtesy of a DEQ grant). Project Learning Tree is one of the oldest and most successful environmental education programs in the world. PLT activities are unbiased, interdisciplinary, fun, hands-on lesson plans, and based on sound science. The goal is to “teach students how to think, not what to think about environmental issues.” For more information, see www.plt.org. The workshop includes the 96-lesson-plan, 400-page “PLT Pre-K-8 Activity Guide.” Bring a brown-bag lunch. Continuing education credits (0.6) are available for $10.
For more information, see our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.com. To register for a program, call the office at 601-799-2311. The Crosby Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration:
Locate a photograph of the gulf fritillary butterfly and its larval stage in your favorite field guide or by visiting your favorite Internet search engine. Have you seen this species in your garden?