Butterflies abound at Crosby Arboretum!

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 10, 2021

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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We’ve been seeing so many butterflies lately traveling through the Arboretum, especially in the south portion of the Savanna Exhibit, which contains the largest variety of blooming native perennials.  If you spend much of your time indoors in the summer, consider locating a garden with plant species that are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators outside your window, where you can sit and observe their activity. Butterflies are at their most active in summer’s heat and they can provide you with lively entertainment to enjoy from a cooler location.

Last week I visited a very special nursery in New Orleans, run by “BugLady”.  Linda Auld, owner-operator of Barber Laboratories.  Linda has raised more than a hundred different species of butterflies and moths over the past four decades.

My visits with Linda usually involve a non-stop conversation about the top performers in her nursery and garden. A chrysalis or newly hatched butterfly always seems to be (literally) hanging out in an enclosure in her showroom. I have been fortunate to have spent time with Linda and her friends during excursions to the Gloster Arboretum, a unique 400 plus acre Mississippi garden, located in the town of the same name.

At Gloster, I’ve observed the emergence of butterflies from their chrysalises brought along on the trip in their screen enclosures, planned for imminent release, and seen the hot pursuit of seasoned butterfly enthusiasts which resemble bloodhounds tracking a scent as they pore through references on their quest to identify a particular insect. Discussions about past or upcoming participation in organized area butterfly counts are mesmerizing.

Linda’s friends possess detailed knowledge about the host plants of particular caterpillars – in other words, the plants upon which butterfly eggs are laid.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae conveniently begin to feed. What a wonderful new way to experience native plants, through their importance as host plants.

At Crosby, a fascinating host plant is about to emerge! I noticed recently that water cowbane (Oxypolis filiformis) is beginning to unfold in the south pitcher plant bog.  Cowbane looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, a common non-native roadside plant from Asia and Europe, but it grows in much wetter areas. Cowbane is a host plant for Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Upon emerging from their crysallises, they will head straight for the nearby Liatris patch to feed on the sweet nectar!

If you happen to be spending the summer in the vicinity of a budding young naturalist, why not locate a field guide or website about butterflies common to our region, and their caterpillars.  Make flash cards that include the insects’ host plants and proceed to challenge each other!  Next time you are at the Arboretum, see if you can find any caterpillars hanging out on their host plants.

Want to attract more butterflies? Download the fact sheet, “Attracting Butterflies to Mississippi Gardens,” at the Extension website (http://extension.msstate.edu/), which contains a list of plants that will fill your garden with butterflies.

Sign up for the Plant Propagation Workshop with Dr. Eddie Smith, our Pearl River County Extension Agent, Friday, July 16, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon.  This program includes a presentation along with hands-on activities in the greenhouse.

Teachers and homeschool educators! Sign up now at (601) 799-2311 for our upcoming workshops! A Project Learning Tree PreK-8 workshop will be held Saturday, July 17, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. PLT offers interdisciplinary, fun, hands-on lesson plans based on sound science and correlated to state standards. Thanks to support from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the workshop includes a free 50-lesson-plan, “Explore Your Environment” and “Green Jobs” guide.  Bring a brown bag lunch. 0.5 CEUs are available for $10.

A Project Wild workshop, “Wild About Pollinators”, takes place Thursday, July 22 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Project WILD is one of the most widely used conservation and environmental education programs by K-12 educators. Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Outreach Educator Sabrina Cummings will lead this workshop for teachers, homeschool educators, and others who serve in a teaching role, using topics focused on the importance of pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and other wildlife to show how to teach subjects across the curriculum. Bring a brown bag lunch.  Workshop cost of $25 includes a workbook. 0.5 CEU’s are available for $10.

Mark your calendar for the “All About Hummingbirds” program with long-time hummingbird bander James Bell on Saturday, August 14 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.  Reservations are required for most of our programs. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up and pay when you arrive. For more information see www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu<http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu>. The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road.