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!

16 comments:

  1. Great post, Karin! I only recently added Milkweed to my garden because it's so shady. Although some of the Milkweeds seem to be doing OK, I have yet to see a Monarch caterpiller, but I have seen a few Monarch butterflies nectaring on the Milkweeds and other plants. But I've always seen a wide array of other butterflies and other pollinators. They do prefer the native flowers! Welcome back to blogging! I didn't realize it had been that long because you've been adding nice comments to my blog and communicating via Facebook. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Beth! It is easier for me to Facebook than blog from my phone which is what I use when we are on the go. Since we started homeschooling I haven't had much time for "my" activities. Trying to squeeze them in here and there. I hope you will see some monarchs. You are in their migration path so that would be a good sign!

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  2. I have not seen you in quite some time, I was wondering what happened. I did see you comment on some blogs and was happy all was well. I am not much for FB, so I am there very rarely, but also saw a few of your postings. I know this time of year is busy for almost all of us, so I understand. I saw you have not seen the Monarch in few years. I saw them last year in the garden on Verbena, but very few, and late in the year like you did in 2012 1nd 2011. I believe it is getting where we will not be seeing them again, not because we don't have milkweed, but the Midwest corridor does not. Too many farms, too many pesticides. If they can't lay the eggs there, we won't be seeing that next generation. I wrote on this earlier this year, and a lot depends on weather this year. Severe storm activity is a great issue for them too. I am hoping weather holds out this year and they can make a safe journey, but have my doubts.

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    1. I completely agree Donna! When I visit my mother in Michigan I see loads of common milkweed but they do mow it down along the roadside in late summer which is a critical time for the monarch's fall migration. I don't know why they can't wait until later in the fall to mow the roadsides. I am trying to get my schedule such that I can spend more time blogging. I sure do miss reading all the fascinating posts!

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  3. It's been a crazily busy spring for everyone I think (lots to do after that long winter!) Definitely the more attention we can bring to pollinators the better. I haven't seen nearly the amount of bees and butterflies I used to, but I don't know if it's because of the decline in populations in the last two years or because I'm in a different location or because I'm still working on building my garden. Either way, it's quite horrifying how many pesticides and herbicides are used - and I'm quite worried that people won't care about the impact until it's too late.

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    1. I definitely think the cold winter had a significant impact on the number of pollinators. I hope they will recover. I look forward to seeing the progress you make on your new garden. It looks fab so far!

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  4. I too have seen very few Monarchs over the last two years. I did attract a number last fall with Topical Milkweed and not with Swamp milkweed, A. incarnata. And they laid eggs on hondeydew milkweed which is a noxious weed. I guess they would rather have bolonga than steak.

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  5. I am also dismayed by the lack of butterflies, though I have never had the numbers you have had, and have never had many caterpillars. So far I have seen one monarch, one swallowtail, and a handful of others. I just do what I can do in my own garden and hope that the broader situation improves.

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  6. These photos are fantastic. You always capture wonderful ones of the different species.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  7. Really amazing photos! I find it so hard to photograph birds and butterflies and yours are superb! The first photo is probably my favorite although they are all very very good!

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  8. What a post Karin...and by your FB posts I know how busy you have been at home. So no apologies and you are a wonderful blogger friend. I am shocked that you also have few butterflies...I have few as well but again I agree, the habitat and weather are keeping them at bay. I am hopeful that it is only a delay caused by weather and that we will see more. All the pollinators seem sparse for this time of year.

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  9. I've had lots of bees in my garden and a few butterflies. But I think they're behind because of our cold winter. Last summer was The Summer of the Swallowtail because there were so many but I'd heard it had a lot to do with how mild our previous winter had been. I had a few swallowtail caterpillars but they were eaten by birds. :( Now that school's out I can better observe my garden for butterflies and other pollinators.

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  10. Welcome back Karin. Sometimes a short break is needed isn't it? this was a great post and a good reminder to get planting. Although we have worked hard the past five years to convert our lawn to a more green space I still haven't got much in the way of butterflies visiting me. Clearly I need to think more about what plants they like and get them planted.

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  11. A great post, Karin! Everyone needs to be reminded of the importance of pollinators, and many gardeners still need to be informed of pollinator-friendly practices. I've been worried about the butterflies this year, too. But then my purple coneflowers bloomed, and I began to see more and more, including the first Monarch here. I know coneflowers aren't necessarily a host plant, but they always seem to draw the butterflies and bees to my garden.

    Looking forward to meeting you in Portland!

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  12. I found your blog while searching for answers as to why there are so many fewer butterflies this Summer in the Atlanta area. We have some host and nectar plants and are Audubon Certified. After my neighbor mentioned the concern of the lack of butterflies at a butterfly garden in Tucker, it really occurred to me that we have seen about two Gulf Frittilaries all year! Yesterday we saw one Swallowtail. Another friend in Gwinnett County with several butterfly bushes noticed a huge decline since last year also. Do you think it's partly because of the cold winter? Have you heard about Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart's plants coming back with test showing about half are poisoned with neonic pesticides? Here is an excerpt from an email from friends of the earth (foe.org)

    Bees and other pollinators, essential for the two-thirds of the food crops we eat everyday, are in big trouble, and populations are dwindling worldwide. Last year, beekeepers reported losses of 40-100 percent of their hives. We expect to see similar if not worse numbers this year.
    Last year, our first-of-its kind report found these bee-killing neonic pesticides in the majority of “bee-friendly” home garden plants we tested -- sold at stores like Lowe’s -- with no warning to consumers.

    That may have something to do with it also??

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    1. Glad you stopped by! I wrote a post about neonicotinoids last year. http://gardeningsoul.blogspot.com/2013/10/is-your-wildlife-friendly-garden.html
      I try to buy plants from local nurseries that know that their plants are neonicotinoid free. It is definitely important for the survival of pollinators and other wildlife. I think the cold winter this year and the wet one the previous year actually had a big impact on butterfly populations. Food was scarce for all wildlife and larvae were at more risk of being eaten by other insects and critters. Fingers crossed that we have a better winter this year. Since I wrote this post I am seeing more and more fritillary cats on the violas and passion vine which is growing everywhere. There is hope if gardeners continue to add nectar and host plants to their gardens to support the pollinators.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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