Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Bodacious Button Bush

Hands down the most popular plant in our garden right now is the button bush. (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Its like grand central station with all the different species of bees, flies, butterflies and other insects arriving and departing from this shrub from morning until night.

painted lady butterfly and bee on button bush
painted lady butterfly with bee on button bush

The flower balls are an excellent source of nectar for a variety of insects come mid-summer.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on button bush bloom
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Butterflies of all sizes and families enjoy nectaring on the pincushion flower heads from the smaller skippers to the mid-sized, painted lady and the larger swallowtails.

skipper butterfly on button bush
silver-spotted skipper on button bush
All variety of bees are also found drinking nectar and gathering pollen here. Honey bees use the pollen to produce honey.

Several syrphid flies also like to drink nectar from these spheres. We often see these flower flies making a circle around the blooms. Look closely at the photo below and you can see the fly drinking.

syrphid fly on button bush
Syrphid fly on button bush

Another really fascinating hover fly is the yellow jacket hover fly also known as the 'good news bee' because these guys will hover in front of you as if to give you the latest news from your garden.

Yellow jacket hover fly (Milesia virginiensis)

They are often mistaken for hornets since they fly aggressively and buzz loudly as if mimicking a hornet. Can you see the resemblance? But no worries, syrphid flies are completely harmless and good for your garden. Their larvae will eat lots of aphids.

yellow jacket hover fly 'Milesia,virginiensis'
Yellow jacket hover fly (Milesia virginiensis)
The button bush is usually found in swamps and marshes but it is tolerant of soil and moisture conditions once established. Ours is located at the bottom of a slopped area and it benefits from all the water run-off. We will be adding another one near our house in an area that tends to flood during heavy rains. It is perfect plant for a rain garden.

Button bush 'Cephalanthus occidentalis'

It is a great native alternative to the butterfly bush which is considered invasive in some parts of the country. And unlike the butterfly bush which is only a nectar source, the button bush is also a host plant to 18 different Lepidoptera species including the promethea moth, hydrangea sphinx, and dagger moth.  You may just be lucky enough to find a saddleback caterpillar on it! The button bush is hardy from zone 4 to 11 and will grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall.

This is by far one of my favorite plants in our garden and one that every wildlife garden should include.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Finding Caterpillars

Can you hear it? I'm letting out a HUGE sigh of relief. Why you wonder. Well, I am very excited to report that at long last we have caterpillars! Yes, Caterpillars!

Southern Meadows

We have been patiently waiting for months to see signs from the butterfly community that they are back and strong. In my last post, Beyond Butterflies, I wrote about the lack of butterflies this year. Now, here we are in July and we are starting to see few more butterflies but I have yet to spot a male/female pair of the same species.  I have not seen any black swallowtail butterflies this season and they are typically numerous and frequent in our garden. There is not a black swallowtail caterpillar to be found on the parsley, fennel or golden alexander.

But its not all doom and gloom for every butterfly species. Sometime when we weren't looking the fritillary butterflies managed to find mates and have been laying eggs. I first found two variegated fritillary caterpillars on a viola in front of the house. We have lots of violas around the garden for this very reason. They migrate all over the garden and I just let them grow where they will hoping a gulf fritillary will find them. And they have!

Southern Meadows

This prompted me to look at the passion vine again. I had been checking them regularly but finding nothing for weeks so I honestly had stopped looking everyday. Much to my surprise I found this hungry caterpillar devouring a leaf. This was enough to get me jumping up and down in my garden boots.

Southern Meadows

But wait there are more, lots more! Aren't they gorgeous!

Southern Meadows

Southern Meadows

And, in all different instar stages too. I just needed to turn over a leaf or two and there they were.  Happy day! 

two variegated fritillary caterpillars on passion vine

Southern Meadows
The passion vine is also the host plant for the gulf fritillary butterfly and I found several of these caterpillars crawling around as well. Like the variegated fritillary, they are orange and black but missing the white markings.

Finding Caterpillars: Southern Meadows

Finding Caterpillars: Southern Meadows

This is really good news! Hopefully we will have a lot more fritillary butterflies fluttering about the garden in the next few weeks.  I am still keeping my fingers crossed that we will see other butterfly and moth families make their appearance very soon! Have you been seeing more butterflies in your garden yet?