Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Beyond Butterflies

Blogger friends, how I have missed you! Life has been so crazy busy lately, running my kids to the moon and back, that I haven't written a post in almost two months. I've also barely had time to read any of your blog posts either. OK, let's just say it out loud, I've been a terrible blogger friend! I hope that we can reconnect again and what better week to do it than the one designated to celebrate our precious pollinators!

Like many wildlife gardeners, I started the journey by gardening for butterflies. Creating a butterfly garden is an easy way to support these beautiful creatures whose existence is being threatened by habitat loss, pesticides and diseases.

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

We have all read about the tragic decline of the monarch butterflies and honeybees but I am also concerned about many of the butterflies we typically see in spring, summer and fall in our garden. Despite the fact that we have all the components to attract native butterflies (a vast array of host plants, nectar sources, as well as puddling, perching, and basking spots) they are especially sparse this year. I have seen a few fluttering around the garden but haven't seen any butterfly caterpillars. Not a one! Is the population so thin that they aren't finding mates? Our abnormally cold winter and late spring surely had some impact on the populations and I've been waiting patiently but I'm getting concerned. Where are all the butterflies?

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

My plants are lonely! We have passion vine growing all over the garden, up trellises, hedges and on the ground, just waiting for some gulf or variegated fritilary butterflies to lay their eggs.

Southern Meadows: Beyong Butterflies
taken last summer, gulf fritilary on passionvine

The bronze fennel and parsley have bolted and the golden alexander is blooming happily because they haven't been eaten to the ground by black swallowtail caterpillars. This photo was taken in April last year when we had 22 caterpillars on one fennel plant and I had to rush out and buy more because I was afraid they would run out of food.

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

What does this mean? Well, the reduction in butterfly numbers and species is a good indication that there is loss in plant communities. It is particularly evident with species, such as the monarch, that are dependent on one species of plant. Here we've been adding more and more milkweed to our garden every year. (we are up to 5 varieties) but haven't had a monarch butterfly visit our garden since fall of 2012 and haven't had any monarch caterpillars since fall of 2011. We're not much of a monarch way station, are we! 

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

Because of their relationship with plants, butterflies are extremely important in reflecting loss of habitat. Its true that our blooming plants are on a delayed schedule because of the weather and it goes to reason that the pollinators are on the same delayed schedule, but many plants are blooming in our garden now with very few visitors to pollinate them.

Unfortunately, there is more and more evidence that the populations of many pollinator species are in decline. As home gardeners, Mr. Southern Meadows and I have transitioned from our days of butterfly gardening to gardening for all pollinators...moths, bees, beetles, birds, and even flies. We've worked hard to create a pollinator friendly garden on our 5 acres to help preserve native pollinator populations. In doing so we have attracted many fascinating pollinators to our garden that really makes our garden come alive. Watching a healthy ecosystem function from our back deck is incredibly rewarding!

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies
long horned beetle on daisy

Pollinators not only help put food on our table...every third bite of food  we eat comes from a plant that depends on insects to pollinate it...but they also are essential in natural plant communities because they create food for other wildlife.

Without pollinators there wouldn't be any berries or seeds for the birds and other mammals to eat.

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

Pollinators are themselves food for spiders, birds and many mammals.

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

The pollinators world has been substantially altered by urbanization and agriculture. Often home gardens and the marginal habitats along roadsides are the only places pollinators can forage for food and nest. I believe that we can coexist with the pollinators by restoring habitat for them. Managing roadside plantings with native wildflowers with overlapping bloom times and host plants (milkweed for example), especially along migration routes, would greatly benefit pollinator populations.

Southern Meadows: Beyond Butterflies

Education along with implementing pollinator friendly practices in our municipalities, neighborhoods, parks and forests as well as businesses is an important step. I believe as home gardeners we CAN make a difference too. If you haven't done so already, you can begin by creating your own pollinator friendly habitat in your garden. Click here for more information on how to build a pollinator friendly habitat as well as pollinator friendly gardening practices.

And you can thank a pollinator every time you eat a meal. Without them we would have very little color on our plates!