Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Butterfly Gardening: a new book by The Xerces Society

Have you heard? There is a new book out on gardening for butterflies. A book that is worthy to sit on every gardener's shelf and referenced frequently.

Spicebush Swallowtail visiting butterfly weed
Gardening for butterflies has been trending in the gardening world for many years. I have given presentations to garden clubs, master gardeners, mom's groups and other garden organization on gardening for butterflies and moths. I love educating on this topic!  Gardening for butterflies is what I consider the gateway to gardening for all wildlife. If people get hooked on attracting butterflies to their garden and see all the joy and life it brings, they will soon graduate to gardening for bees and other beneficial insects.

Spring Azure

But despite people's enthusiasm for butterflies they, like many other insects, are in peril. I have noticed in my own garden, that butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. Some years I have an abundance of a certain species, while other years there seems to be more diversity. Mounting evidence is showing that butterflies as a whole, not just the Monarchs, have been in decline at exceptional rates.

Monarch on Ageratum
When you consider that just one in ten butterflies makes it to adulthood, habitat loss and use of insecticides makes their survival even more challenging. To encourage gardeners to plant more to support butterflies, the Xerces Society recently published a new book Gardening for Butterflies. My friend, Penny, gifted this book to me as an early birthday present.


The forward, written by Robert Michael Pyle of Gray's River, Washington pens that "by nurturing, enriching, and diversifying your own habitat of home, you are taking part in real butterfly conservation."

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Carolina Jessamine
This comprehensive book begins with why butterflies (moths and other beneficial insects) matter, then moves on to the butterfly life cycle and different butterfly families.  An entire section of the book focuses on how to design a butterfly garden, providing sample plans to put the principles into practice using regionally appropriate plants.  Examples include a rain garden and upland habitat, xeriscape garden, multi-use backyard garden, meadow and roadside habitat.

Question Mark finding minerals in sandy soil in driveway

A large part of the book consists of native plant profiles, which support butterflies. Beyond garden design, the authors discuss plant selection, installation and maintenance. I was thrilled to see an entire chapter on gardening for moths included.

Pearl Crescent on coreopsis

And even if you don't have a place to garden at home, the book (and arguably perhaps the most important section) discusses how to get your community to incorporate gardens to support wildlife, be it businesses, college campuses, parks and greenspaces, roadsides and utility corridors, or farms and wild areas.

gray hairstreak on summersweet
All this fabulous information is supported by outstanding photos submitted by Xerces Society members. My fellow gardening friend and native plant advocate, Penny, has several photos featured in the book, a few of which she photographed in my garden. One of the photos is of me in front of (and behind) the camera.

The Xerces Society 'Gardening for Butterflies' page 265

This book will benefit novice and veteran butterfly gardeners alike. Whether you are looking to start a garden that attracts these beautiful creatures or spruce up and expand your established butterfly garden there is information in here for you. Reviewing the best plants for butterfly gardens (by region), I found that there are still a few plants I need to add to our garden.

Eastern Tiger swallowtail on buttonbush
Butterfly gardeners ARE changing the world. How much impact your garden will have to prevent butterflies from disappearing depends on what plants you incorporate in your landscape plan.

(Note: the butterfly photos appearing in this post are mine and do not appear in the book) 

Gardening for Butterflies can be purchased at The Xerces Society store or Timber Press

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Big Leaf Out. It's All About the Trees

The leafing out of the trees is underway. By early April many trees and shrubs are already showing their greenery here in North Georgia, creating a stunning canopy of fresh foliage. Do you enjoy watching leaves emerge in spring as much as the vibrant flowers? This spring I began to really pay closer attention to the beauty of this process. Each day I walk our woods and observe the new leaves and flowers appearing on the trees.  This is the street view looking toward the woods from a southerly direction. The majestic trees make one feel very small in this wondrous world.


Leaves have been breaking bud and unfurling their leaves for several weeks now. The tree canopy is already peppered with green from the hickory, sweetgum and tulip poplar trees. The oaks, beech and sycamores are not far behind.


Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa) is one of several hickories common in our woods and one of the first of the big trees to begin to show its leaves.  The buds are fascinating to watch emerge.

Hickory leaves unfurling

These leaves are food for the larval of several moths including Luna and Regal.
See my post on these showy moths here.


As if someone is handing you a bouquet of leaves

Within a week the tree is full of luscious lime green leaves and the tree canopy is beginning to fill in. This is where many birds and insects hangout in early spring.

Hickory leaves

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees are abundant at the woodland edge. They are fast growing and establish themselves in abandoned pastures and clear-cut areas. The leaflets are soft and attractive contrasting those fat, piercing thorns.

Black Locust leaves with thorns

This member of the legume family is a nitrogen fixer and grows in nutrient poor soils. Also a good tree for erosion control and with our sometimes steeply sloped property is welcome. Bonus is the flowers support bees and those thorns, well let's just say its good security.

Locust leaves and flower bud

The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a member of the magnolia family, synchronizes its leaf emergence with the first sighting of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. These dainty leaves will serve as larval host of the Tuliptree Silkmoth and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

emerging leaves of Tulip Poplar

The tulip shaped leaves grow almost as quickly as my children, as my son is demonstrating in this photo.


The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is commencing its leaf out, while still holding on to a few of its marcescent leaves. As new growth emerges the faded leaves gently fall to the forest floor sometimes scooped up by the wind and sent drifting off further into the woods.

American Beech

Beech trees are very shade tolerant and generally one of the later emerging leaves in our woods. Together with Sugar Maples they are an indication of a climax succession in a hardwood forest.

prominent lateral veining on Beech

A Boxelder (Acer negundo), which prefers moist conditions and generally found in floodplains, has established itself along a runoff area deep in the woods. This understory tree normally prefers sunnier conditions but seems to be content in this location.

Male flowers on Boxelder tree
The leaves emerge concurrently with the dioecious flowers as shown in the photo above. The young leaves are said to resemble those of poison ivy.

Boxelder leaves

What say you? Would you mix these two up? Maybe, if it was a seedling coming up through the leaf litter.

poison ivy leaves

The palmate lobed leaves of the Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) tree are just starting to show themselves on the lower branches. This is a pioneer plant, growing quickly and taking over a disturbed area. It is well established on our property, once farmland with acres of open fields.

Sweetgum leaflets

Looking up the monoecious flowers are already blooming amid the more mature star shaped leaves that receive more sunshine. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will visit these blooms for nectar.


Sweetgum flowers and star shaped leaves

A typical stream bank species, Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees are long lived and rival the tulip poplar for height; however, the Sycamore has a much thicker trunk.

Female flower (red bud)on Sycamore
Simple leaves emerge after flowering has begun and will provide a wide canopy with its broad leaves.

Sycamore leaves with flowers
A mature sycamore stands at the edge of the woods on the Northeast side of our home. I'm rather in love with this tree for its fabulous exfoliating, mottled bark, which in my book rivals the South's revered Crape Myrtle any day. Plus watching the leaves dance and sway in the wind is very calming.

Newly emerged Sycamore leaves with male & female flowers

Trees are naturally gorgeous. They are inviting, protecting and endearing. Their leaves get most attention in fall when they bring vibrant color to the landscape but I think they are just as spectacular in spring when they are newly emerged.  I encourage you to get out and do a leaf walk and see what new discoveries you find.