Saturday, June 2, 2012

Red-spotted purple butterfly.
Painted lady butterfly on Hesperis matronalis.
Cabbage white butterfly
Butterfly feeding station.

A red-spotted purple butterfly lay on the front step as  I opened the door for the first time today. Its teal speckled black dark blue wings--inexplicable hues for one so colorfully named--shimmered in the sunlight. It remained  nearly motionless long enough for me to grab one of the cameras I keep by the door.That was the moment my cat chosesto dart out of the house as the proverbial bat from hell. The butterfly took off, paused briefly  by one of the rose bushes and flew away. I saw  it once again a couple of hours later and again it vanished, leaving me with a number of unanswered questions--why hadn't I seen it in previous years? Why did it choose this spot ? Had I planted something new this year, something it found attractive? What did it eat? What could I do to make sure that it comes back?

Mine is not, strictly speaking, a butterfly garden. I plant with the wildlife in mind, but I do not single out a particular species.Trees in sadly depleted woods, surround my house, which nestles in a wedge of land between creek and river. My twenty-five years old garden is new, by local standards. My village, Tater Hollow, is a couple of centuries old. Last year, I lost a number of trees and perennials due  a misguided project initiate by  the local government, which is remarkably obtuse when it comes to the ecology of my neighborhood. I have only just begun to replant. Earlier in the season, I added fifty-one trees, a dozen rose bushes and many perennials to my half-acre lot. It will grow, or not, without the benefit of pesticides. Birds and butterflies respond to such environments, though it bears no resemblance to the neat and prim outdoor spaces featured in shelter magazines.

Many years ago i started a flower border border by my front door. Today it is a tangle of vinca gone out of control, several Heirloom rose bushes, hollyhocks, lilies, peonies, blue  salvia and other deer-resistant perennials.  A row of pots filled with miniature roses, columbines,  lilies, dwarf buddleia, hosta and Casablanca lilies flanks the walkway. Beyond that, the grass, which foamed with white clover blossoms three days ago, has been   be tidied into into  a  green, flowerless space. According to  information gleaned from several websites, adult red-spotted purples do like flowers, but their preferred food is overripe fruit. That explains why this is the first time in twenty five years that I have seen this butterfly in my garden. Early  spring, I  prepared a butterfly feeding station with  water, salt and overripe fruit. I expected to see the usual  cabbage whites, monarchs, sulfurs and zebra swallowtails. Until this morning, cabbages whites had been ubiquitous and monarchs elusive. In May, when the sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalis was in bloom,  a painted lady butterfly  came by. Neither monarchs and swallowtails joined the winged host. Then, literally out of the blue,  this  jewel appeared on my doorstep, attracted , perhaps by the overripe mango I had set out at the feeding station. I know of no greater reward for such a small effort.

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