Outstanding native butterfly plants for your garden

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 18, 2019

By Patricia R. Drackett
Director, The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University
Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture

Last Saturday’s program with New Orleans “BugLady” Linda Auld was a lot of fun. Her presentation contained profiles of many native perennials, shrubs and trees that will attract butterflies to your garden. At the end of her program, Linda opened a cage to release two newly hatched swallowtail butterflies, who flew off in search of host plants to lay their eggs on.

One of the native species she had for sale was passion vine (Passiflora incarnata), known for being a host plant for the gulf fritillary butterfly. We couldn’t pass up getting one to plant in our pollinator garden!

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It’s not unusual to have passion vine arriving from the nursery to be covered in scary-looking orange caterpillars with formidable black spines. Although the caterpillars look like they might sting, these spines are actually quite fragile and will break off easily.

If you were to find these odd creatures devouring your beautiful flowering vine, you might be tempted to squish them immediately, a story I’ve heard from more than one garden client who reported they’d taken care of the offenders. But these scary creatures will eventually turn into the beautiful orange fritillary butterflies, so if you garden for pollinators, just leave them be.

If you have a passion vine and notice these butterflies paying it a visit, look closely to see if you can find eggs clinging to a tendril or the underside of a leaf. When they hatch, the tiny caterpillars will begin to consume the leaves. Eventually, they will form a chrysalis, from which the butterfly will emerge.

Passion vine is perennial, and although it will die to the ground each year after the leaves are killed by frost, it will come back each year. The plant grows in full to part sun, and prefers moist, well-drained soil conditions. Let it ramble or scramble in your garden, perhaps up a tree, pole, or arbor.

Another native plant Linda talked about is a native shrub that prefers wet sites, buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). The plant blooms in late spring to early summer and can grow 6 to 10 feet tall. Buttonbush has unusual globe-shaped flower clusters, and while it will grow in shade, they will have a denser growth in areas of full sun.

Buttonbush is a great choice for areas in your yard that remain soggy throughout the year. You can find shrub growing near many of the Arboretum’s bridges, where it does well on the moist, well-drained banks.

Linda’s new book, BugLady’s Butterfly Summer, is available in our gift shop.  It is full of information on butterflies, including their host species, tips for attracting and raising them, and is specific to our coastal area.

Participate in our Walk with the Scarecrows! The deadline for submitting a scarecrow is Friday, September 20, at 5 p.m. Help decorate our trails with a scarecrow that represents you, your organization, or your business. Make it as festive as you like, but it must be family-friendly and non-offensive. You may place a sign to let people know the story of your scarecrow and more about your organization or business. Scarecrows will go up between October 4 through 6.  There is no charge to participate in this fun community event. For more information or for a registration form, please contact Nickie Smith, Event & Marketing Coordinator, at nickie.smith@msstate.edu<mailto:nickie.smith@msstate.edu>, call 601-799-2311, or message us on Facebook.

Family PAWZ Fest is coming soon! On Saturday, September 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., come participate in the joint fundraiser that benefits area animal rescue organizations and the Crosby Arboretum, with the goal of increasing pet health, wellness, awareness, adoption, and improving the quality of life for all animals. 

Please come and help us support our furry friends! The festival will feature an Adopt-A-Thon, a costume contest, bake sale, face painting, children’s craft activities, raffles, live music, games, photo opportunities, food vendors, and more. Admission for members and non-members is $5 for adults (seniors 55+ and military adults $4), and $2 for children under 12.

Stop in to see the Arboretum’s fall gallery exhibit, photography by Jenny Bibb Ryals, and mark your calendar to come learn more about butterflies and other insects at the Arboretum’s two-day Bugfest, an extravaganza of all things buggy, October 18 and 19 (Friday and Saturday).

For more information, please see our Facebook page, or the calendar on our website at https://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu.

Our public garden is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome.