Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The week the butterflies returned

On Monday, March 22, I had the first Monarch butterfly of the year in my yard. I was working in the vegetable garden when I noticed it. The butterfly was nectaring on some collard blooms.

Collards and most members of the brassica family make beautiful yellow blooms at the end of their life cycle and that's where mine are now. These blooms are very attractive to bees and to butterflies, and I let them go for as long as possible for that reason. After all, blooms are still in a bit of short supply in my yard, so I don't want to prematurely remove some perfectly good ones.

Anyway, the Monarch was enjoying the collard blooms and I stood by, enjoying the Monarch. Then it occurred to me that I needed to document the moment. I ran inside as fast as my chubby legs could carry me to grab the camera, but, of course, by the time I got back outside the butterfly was gone. I hung around with the camera for a while, hoping it might return, but it didn't.

The very next day, I made a run to Arbor Gate to pick up some more butterfly weed. My asclepias are coming back, but rather slowly. They are not well-leafed-out yet, and, just in case my visitor felt a need to lay some eggs, I certainly wanted her to have plenty of leaves on which to lay them. I haven't seen another Monarch since I planted the new butterfly weed, but at least now I know I am prepared.

I've had at least one Question Mark butterfly around the yard during the winter, and, for a few weeks now, a few Sulphurs have flitted their way through my garden. Last week I saw one of the black swallowtails, possibly a Pipevine although I couldn't be sure. But it is not really butterfly season until the first Monarch shows up, so this week will go into my book as the week the butterflies returned.

And then today, I had a visit from a Red Admiral! This time, I actually did have a camera at hand.

The brightly-colored insect did not particularly want his picture taken and was not terribly cooperative.

Here, the butterfly partially opened his (her?) wings for me, but was half hidden by a dead leaf. By the way, that plant next to the butterfly is a stinging nettle, one of the ones that I missed in my sweep of the yard. It turns out that this is one of the host plants of this butterfly! Who knew? I guess I'll have to give it more respect in the future.

I took lots of pictures of this butterfly, just because I was so happy to have a butterfly, and also to compensate for missing the pictures of the Monarch and the Pipevine earlier.

It's been a tough winter for our butterflies. We know about the sad situation with the Monarchs which I had written about here a couple of weeks ago. (Eric Berger also had a story about the catastrophe in today's Chronicle.) But other butterflies have faced colder and wetter winters than usual, as well, and that has no doubt thinned their ranks. They need our help.

I urge all gardeners in the area to make a special effort to plant extra larval food plants this spring, in addition to all the bright blooming plants which the butterflies utilize for nectar. It's the larval food plants that will really help the butterflies make their comeback.

I pledge that I will even leave a few of those stinging nettles in inconspicuous places around my yard. Much as I hate that plant, I do love Red Admirals.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know about stinging nettles & red admirals, but it explains why we have to so many red admirals in our yard...the nettles are among the most persistent and hardy nuisance plants...and we have so much wild space in our acre...and I'm not as good as you are about pulling them up.

    Lovely to have your butterflies back! We won't have monarchs here for some time, until the native green milkweed vine leafs out, maybe May? My tropical milkweed didn't make it through the winter, I think, and I'm not going to replace it when I have the green vine sprinkled through the woodland.