The last few weeks in the garden have been quite stunning. Not only are the annuals and perennials still blooming profusely along with the addition of the sedums and mums, but there are butterflies galore taking action in the garden. It has been like a fantasyland when you walk through them with literally hundreds of butterflies that will flutter across your path as you go by. Although every year we have butterflies that visit our gardens, this happens to be a stellar year for the butterfly called the Painted Lady.
The Painted Lady butterfly is smaller than that of the monarch or swallowtails, but it is still a good-sized insect that has a wingspan of about 2 inches across. Every year there seems to be some insect that flourishes in the conditions we are given and this year happens to be the year for this fella. With its rusty orange marking along with black edges and white spots, it is noticeably different from the monarch and others, and they love to feed on the nectar of many of the plants that continue to bloom in the garden today.
Many people indicate that this is a bad butterfly to have around as the larva that come from the eggs of the butterfly can be destructive. As with any moth or butterfly, the larva will feed on various leaves in order to grow to the adult stage of becoming a butterfly. Fortunately for us, the main food source of this larva is that of the thistle. Although this is its primary source of food, it will also feed on hollyhocks, mallow species and those in the legume family. The larva is a hairy caterpillar of about 2 inches long when it is fully adult. It is in this stage for about 10 days before becoming a cocoon. The cocoon period will last around 10 to 14 days and then the butterfly emerges. From this stage the butterfly will typically only survive about two weeks, so it feeds heavily in order to lay eggs for the next generation. There is a group of these butterflies, like the monarch, that do not lay eggs, however, gather nectar for their migration south to continue the next generation.
Butterflies love to feed off the nectar of a large group of flowers, but typically on plants that rise 3 to 6 feet in height. I have seen many, many of them feeding off of the stonecrop sedums this year, but they enjoy asters, cosmos, blazing star, joe pye weed, ironweed, red clover, zinnias and milkweed.
Although this large group of butterflies this season will lay eggs and place fear into people who think there will be a large hatch of larva in the spring season, this is not always the case. There are many predators and weather conditions that will influence the survival of the hatchlings, if they hatch at all. Nature has a way of keeping things in equal checks and balances for stability. Rarely do I concern myself with these types of issues as every year there is a new challenge or experience.
Butterflies in the garden are part of why we have them in the first place. Our gardens encourage habitats for insects, rodents, birds and animals alike. Most live in harmony with the environment we have created, so it is only natural for us to go into the garden and enjoy all there is with the activity which is occurring. One of my favorite pastimes is to just sit on the deck and take in all that is happening within the garden. This is one of the few times I can notice and enjoy the hummingbirds doing their thing or catch that odd bird enjoying himself in the birdbath or dining on seeds from some of the spent blooms.
There is an abundance of nectar that is produced in the gardens. It is used by the bees, butterflies, birds and numerous insects for food, but it is also the attractant that allows these critters to pollinate the plants to allow for their future success. The cycle of life is all around us and it is supported by a variety of elements within its realm.
Take some time this fall, before these beautiful creatures disappear, to enjoy their activity in the last remaining weeks of our growing season. The garden is a place to rest, relax and rejuvenate, not just for the gardener themselves, but for all that live in its midst.