Our visitors are amazed by the wide variety of butterflies in the gardens.
I am including a few pictures of the varieties who make Beagle Ridge their home. We have host plants and the necessary nectar plants for over 30 species and have seen many others in the gardens.
This bee balm and Echinacea in our Tea Garden are just two of the many plants which provide them with the nectar they require.
If you want to attract these wonderful insects to your garden plant a Butterfly Garden! These beautiful insects are a welcome addition to any garden and since they are valuable pollinators they serve an important purpose to all of our gardens. Why not plant a garden specifically for them?
This picture shows the larval stage of a Spangled Fritallary on the passion vine- the host plant they require. This caterpillar will continue to eat until it becomes one of our most admired butterflies in our gardens. Read below about the lifecycle of the butterfly and look at what this caterpillar turns into, at the end of this article.
The most common question I get when I mention the caterpillar "eating " the plants is, " You mean I have to stop killing caterpillars?" The answer is Yes if you want butterflies in the gardens.This means no more spraying when you see a caterpillar munching on a leaf. Just consider planting extra of some of those plants which are caterpillar favorites; parsley, fennel, dill and rue is the short list.
This caterpillar will become the much loved Monarch butterfly. Once this caterpillar has gone through the stages of metamorphosis it will still rely on the milkweed family for the nectar it provides. Milkweed is a very important plant for many butterflies, not just the Monarch. Although Monarchs use milkweed as a host plant, Milkweed is one of the few plant families used as both host and nectar plant. Notice the small pellet below the caterpillar, it is called frass ( it is it's waste). This may be too much information for you but I am asked evertime I show this picture.
Life Cycle of the Butterfly:Let's start at the beginning. An adult butterfly's main purpose is to mate, lay eggs and die- all within several weeks. Butterflies do not have the equivalent of a mouth, so during their short life they will use their proboscis, a glorified straw for nourishment. They require plants which are nectar rich, and even more important, specific plants to lay their eggs on.
After mating female butterflies will find the necessary plants for their off spring and lay their eggs on the leaves of those specific plants. The larvae, which hatches from the eggs will have a voracious appetite and may defoliate the plant. During this stage the caterpillar will actually eat so much that it will split out of it's skin. This stage is called an instar and some caterpillars will go through 5 instars. As the plant loses leaves to the caterpillars attack be patient and do not spray. These will soon turn into one of the "Flying Flowers" which you were trying to attract. Don't worry about the leaves, they will grow back. This is just a normal part of the life cycle of the plant and a butterfly.
Once this stage of their life cycle is complete the larvae will develop into a chrysalis/cocoon and begin the final stage of metamorphosis. Depending on the butterfly, this part of the cycle may last for a few weeks or even over the winter. On a sunny day the butterfly will emerge, pump it's wings and after a couple of hours it will begin it's new stage of life. If you want to attract more of these delightful creatures to your garden make sure you have the right blend of plants for all the parts of the life cycle. This way they will come and stay. Otherwise they will fly through, drink some nectar and leave to find the plants on which to lay their eggs.
This Monarch is enjoying the nectar from a Butterfly bush. In the fall or even as early as Labor Day it will begin it's long migration to Mexico.
This lily is popular with our Eastern Swallowtail, the Virginia State insect. I have many Lily varieties in the gardens. They were a favorite of my Mother and every year she would send us some more to add to the various beds. Now that she is gone they have become a wonderful reminder of her love of gardening. Lilies are also favorites of many insects and since they also provide a wonderful scent to the gardens planting them is a win for everyone.
Creating a Butterfly Garden
To develop a butterfly garden, include plants which will provide an accessible and abundant sources of nectar which is the main interest of butterflies and the necessary host plants for thier larvae.
The more food you provide, the wider a variety of butterflies you will attract. Plants which that have flower heads which are composed of short, tubular blossoms and are flat-topped to provide a good landing platform e.g. Achillea (Yarrow), Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Coreopsis, Echinacea (Coneflower), Monarda (Bee Balm). However as you can see any flower with nectar can be a butterfly magnet!
Although butterflies do need nectar they also need a wide variety of minerals. We took this shot at our fire pit the morning after a cookout. The ashes are very alkaline and obviously provide something the butterflies need.
Can you identify these three different butterflies?
When planning your plantings it is easy to have summer bloomers, but be sure to consider early blooms in the spring as well as some late fall bloomers. Ajuga in the spring and late blooming Japanese Anemones will extend the blooms in your garden. Plant for continuous bloom as butterflies are active from early spring through fall. Herbs are a magnet for butterfliesand many of them are host plnst in addition to being the necessary nectar plants for the butterflies. Provide "baby food" for your butterflies.
Most butterfly species, including the Tiger Swallowtail which is the VA state insect, prefer a tree or a shrub for their host plant. The following are a few of the trees and shrubs which act as host plants: Apple, Cherry, Plum, Birch, Dogwood, Poplar, Elms, Ash, Hackberry, Willow, Hornbeam, Viburnum, Lindera, Lilacs. In addition vines such as Hops and Wisteria are also host plants.
The following is a short list of nectar plants for these jewels in the garden:
Buddleia- Butterfly bushes, Echinacea- Purple Cone Flower, Sedum-Neon, Rudbeckia- Black Eyed Susans, Lilies, Scabiousa- pin cushioned flower, and Asters and Milkweed.
Here is a grown up Spangled Fritillary on a Milkweed at the pond. ( It was a larvae on the passion vine above). Although milkweed gets a bad name we allow it to bloom with abandon at Hemlock Cove and the butterflies and beneficial insects become "drunk" on the nectar. In addition, on a personal note the fragrance is fabulous.
I hope you have enjoyed these pictures and come see them in person when we open in the spring!