Arboretum Paths: Butterflies abound in the Savanna Exhibit!

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Giant swallowtail butterflies do not normally sit still for a photograph, but when they do, it is an awesome sight! (Photo by Pat Drackett)

Giant swallowtail butterflies do not normally sit still for a photograph, but when they do, it is an awesome sight! (Photo by Pat Drackett)

Just last week, I experienced a real treat, one that only lasted for a few seconds, but definitely made an impression. It was such a small and subtle moment, that on a busier day I might easily have missed it. As I was loading things into my car at the end of the day, I caught a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. Glancing over, I realized that a giant swallowtail butterfly had landed on the ground right next to me.

Now, I don’t often see these creatures sitting still. They are a lot like hummingbirds, always flitting and darting, and definitely not easy to capture with my camera. While many butterflies will graciously pause from time to time, fan their wings languidly and agree to pose for a picture, the giant swallowtail seems to be in constant, nervous motion. This is a shame, because when you spot one with wings outstretched, it is an awesome sight.

Last month while visiting the butterfly house at Hershey Gardens in Pennsylvania I fortunately caught a snapshot of two giant swallowtails resting near each other. And the moment I experienced last week, when another stopped by my car for a quick hello, well, he had certainly found a most appreciative admirer.

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Right now is the perfect time to keep your eyes open for butterflies in our Savanna Exhibit, as many of the plants there provide both nectar and host plants for these beautiful insects. Water cowbane (Oxypolis filiformis) is particularly abundant this year in the south pitcher plant bog and is a favorite plant for the caterpillars of the black swallowtail to munch upon, as well as a producer of nectar for pollinators. Also called water dropwort, the plant is in the carrot family (Apiaceae) and resembles Queen Anne’s lace, a common roadside plant that is not native to the U.S. but has become naturalized.

The purple spikes of Liatris spicata, known as blazing star or gayfeather, have begun to emerge in the savannas. Over the coming four to six weeks they will put on a dramatic show, dancing in the breeze along with yellow-eyed grass and ladies’ hatpins and grasses in the moist bog, along with darting Eastern tiger swallowtails (commonly referred to as yellow swallowtails), common buckeye, skipper, and Gulf fritillary butterflies, and maybe even a monarch or two.

One quick and easy way to attract butterflies to your garden doesn’t involve any gardening at all – just whip up a “butterfly fruit cocktail”! They will soon be flocking to your yard if offered a platter of overripe and rotting fruit. Place a mixture of fruit such as bananas, apples, cantaloupe, apples, mango, citrus, and strawberries, in a low dish or plate. If you already have a bird feeder, the type that hangs on a chain from a branch or hook, these is a wonderfully simple and practical way to “serve” the fruit mixture.

Some butterfly fruit mush recipes also call for pouring a fruity flavored, mineral-rich sports drink over the mixture, which is especially attractive to the insects. Mud puddles are also features that will attract butterflies to siphon needed minerals, as are saucers you can place in your garden bed, filled with wet gravel and flat stones to allow butterflies places to alight.

The Extension website,, has helpful, research-based information to help you turn your yard into a haven for butterflies. On the home page, enter the keywords “attracting butterflies” in the search field to view numerous articles and publications on host and nectar plants, in addition to lists of common Mississippi butterflies.
Learn ways to attract butterflies, particularly monarchs, in the “Monarchs and Milkweed” program to be held at the Arboretum on Saturday, August 22, from 10 to 11 a.m., presented by Linda Auld, better known as “BugLady,” owner and operator of Barber Laboratories in New Orleans. Linda has raised over 105 species of butterflies and moths for 39 years and is currently leading a milkweed project in her area to help local schools install butterfly gardens.

On the following Saturday, August 29, Dr. Juan Mata from the University of South Alabama in Mobile will return to the Arboretum to lead a mushroom hunt of the grounds from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Admission to both programs is free for Arboretum members. The cost for non-member adults is $5, and $2 for children under 12. Call the office at 601-799-2311 to sign up.

The Arboretum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59). For more information about our programs and events, see the website at

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Want to see something awesome? Go to your favorite Internet video site or search engine and enter the keywords “butterfly slow motion” to watch video of butterflies as you cannot normally see them. Add some music by Bach, Mozart, or Chopin, and sit back and enjoy!

By Patricia Drackett