Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."
-Rabindranath Tagore

Butterfly activity is still sparse in my neck of the woods. Haven't had many visitors lately. The American Painted Lady butterfly is still passing through town on their way up the coast to where ever they go and end up at. Saw a skipper or two several weeks ago, but they have seemed to move on for the moment.

The garden now features several different species of milkweed for Monarch butterflies, so it should be ready to receive caterpillars when the adults finally arrive. With the milder than average winter and early spring we're experiencing, it's hard to believe that we are still a few days away from April, so patience is a must when it comes to waiting for butterflies to show up in our gardens around here. My general observations have been that most species of butterflies make themselves well known by mid May, with June through September being the peak months for the majority of our local species.

YAY! The Butterfly Festival at the Dorcas E. Utter Memorial Butterfly Pavilion in El Cajon, California will take place on Saturday, April 5th. Sounds like its going to be a rather big shindig with scheduled activities and exhibitors listed. Check out their site for festival information and directions how to get there.


Found a real nice collapsible laundry hamper that looks tailor-made for a butterfly rearing cage. I bought one a couple of years ago with a model that doesn't have a zippered lid like this new one has. ¡Très chichi! On the older model, I have to put a light piece of cloth over the top and secure it with a section of rope so that the cats won't escape. the new one zips open and closed: ¡Voila! Sports two loop handles too. WOW!

One can buy "butterfly cages" specifically advertised for raising caterpillars and holding adult butterflies, but they charge a bit more for them, and are smaller than the one shown above. They are of the same design and quality as the laundry hampers, just different advertising and without the zippered top on some models.

Collapsible laundry hampers can be purchased online and at most - if not all - big box stores such as Walmart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. When not in use, they collapse and fold up flat, making storage a cinch.

No need to make a special top with the newer zippered hampers! "Awesome!" he gushed.

It's easy to make a rearing bucket out of a 5 gal. paint pail also.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“Love is like a butterfly. It goes through stages.”

Just read a short article stating that the overwintering Monarch butterflies in Central Mexico are starting their journey back up to U.S. and Canadian destinations east of the Rockies. Our western race west of the continental divide has been reported to be leaving their overwintering sites along the Pacific coast and heading to the Northwest. Several reports of Monarch eggs and caterpillars have been found on milkweeds planted in folk's gardens.

 I will be coming into Laguna Beach Wednesday, April 2nd for a visit, and have several butterfly-specific plants to give to anyone who can put them to good use in their garden, or even someone else’s. Right now I don’t have much, but there are many different plants waiting in the wings for distribution when they are of sufficient size. This is what I have at the moment and will bring with me if anyone is interested. I will be sitting in the outside patio area of the Coffee Pub in the Laguna Village area on Forest Ave.:

1-1gal. Cassia bicapsularis ‘Worley’s Buttercream’. Medium sized shrub with yellow/cream colored flowers. Can be trained into a small tree with proper pruning. Full sun, fairly drought tolerant once established. Host plant to the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly.

2-1gal. Cassia bicapsularis. Typical vivid yellow blooms of the species. Everything else same as above.

1-1gal. Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’. Also known as Mexican Sunflower. ‘Torch’ is an almost neon orange/red annual variety that gets to about 3 -4 feet tall and as wide. Likes water; its flowers are a strong magnet to hummingbirds and butterflies, especially the various swallowtail butterfly species. Let some of the seed heads ripen to attract seed eating birds, and collect some for yourself to plant in the garden for the next year. Fast grower, easy to grow. Does very well in a large pot.

Next time I visit there should be several species of milkweed for Monarch butterflies to host on plus a few other plants I’m not sure of yet.

The only universal requisite for these plants is that they need at least six hours of full sun per day; the more the merrier. The milkweeds need all day (~8 hrs.) to grow properly.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Women, don't get a tattoo.  That butterfly looks great on your breast when you're twenty or thirty, but when you get to seventy, it stretches into a condor."
-Billy Elmer

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formally known as Wild Animal Park) outside of Escondido, California, will be hosting its annual Butterfly Exhibit April 5-27. If you're planning on visiting the park, March and April are the optimum months to visit, as the weather is Goldilocks perfect: warm and balmy coupled with a refreshing afternoon breeze. Come in April and you can see the Butterfly Exhibit!

It's been a while since I flogged the dead horse, so here goes:

I'm still pissed off with the City of  Laguna Beach for not allowing volunteers to maintain the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden, and for allowing it to go to pot; no, they didn't turn it into a dispensary. On the other hand, the City of Huntington Beach has been quite gracious in allowing Leslie Gilson to successfully spearhead efforts to create a butterfly garden in one of their city's parks. Kudos to local gov't. and volunteer efforts in turning what was basically an abandoned community park into a maintained and viable butterfly habitat.

The City of Laguna Beach had an existing butterfly garden already in the process of maturation. Its positive effect on the local butterfly populations was dramatic, plus those who happened to stumble upon the garden derived much pleasure out of it. What at one time was a biotically sterile monoculture slope of prostrate acacia ground cover, was transformed into a viable butterfly habitat that was diverse for other insects and birds to boot.

I haven't laid eyes on it for over half a year now; it didn't look good then, and I'm sure it doesn't look any better now. No one who knows the garden and me (Me? Myself? I? The butterfly dude? English grammar sux.) has commented on its status, so it can only be assumed that nothing has been done to it to improve it, let alone maintain what may be left of it.

There. I'm done.

For now.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"We kill all the caterpillars, then complain there are no butterflies.”
-John Marsden

The container garden is kicking into high gear and about to go into overdrive. As far as host plants go, the Dill, Fennel, and Common Rue are large enough to receive swallowtail caterpillars at this point. I don't expect to start seeing Anise, Black, and Giant swallowtails until mid May the earliest, unless the almost nonexistent winter coupled with an early spring bring them in sooner . By then, their host plants will be big enough to support a "plethora" of plump and plucky cats.

Monarchs will most likely not show up until around May/June, but that's O.K., as I have no milkweed plants to speak of. They are all in seedling or germination stages, with plant maturity not expected until well into June for the faster growing species.

The passion vine is growing nicely! It's trailing up the trellis at a good rate, and should be able to host many Gulf Fritillary caterpillars by the time adults arrive in June/July sometime.

The cassia (host plant for Cloudless Sulfur butterflies) is small, but will be sufficient in size by July when they start flitting in.

Many of the plants are already blooming, all are prospering, and American Painted Ladies are beginning to make their presence known. If not actually overwintering in your area, it is one of the earliest butterflies to show itself in So Cal. A recent online blip remarked that the American Painted Lady butterfly is currently migrating from desert areas up towards northern destinations. Also what looks to be a female Fiery Skipper have been visiting the garden, along with a few honeybees.

Still early, I imagine other visitors will start to trickle in by the beginning of April. From past experience with lepidopterans, the early birds such as Painted Lady and some skippers become active and are seen in gardens by mid March. Slowly as the season progresses, more and more butterflies and species of butterflies increases.

Added a couple of more pots in the front.

Staging area. Almost ready to place these where they will go in the garden.

Here's a short little video on butterfly garden basics that does a ducky job on the subject. Take into account that it was made in Pennsylvania, and that some of the plants mentioned may not grow well in Southern California.

As the season progresses at the container garden, I'll be able to collect information on how the unfamiliar new plants I'm testing rate here as butterfly enticers and and the degree of garden care needed. This will enable putting together a more extensive plant list suited to Southern California gardens besides those that were showcased in the previous blog: "What's a garden without butterflies?" 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"What's a butterfly garden without butterflies?"
-Roy Rogers

I would like to touch upon what I consider to be the topmost plant candidates for any butterfly garden. They are ones I've personally had experience with that have withstood several seasons of close observation on my part. These are all deer and bunny resistant in my experience except for Scabiosa, also known as Pincushion Flower. Blooms on Pentas plants were usually nipped off by deer, but not all of the time. My thinking is that Pentas blooms aren't too palatable. As new deer came through, they tasted and moved on.

The #1 hands down, slam-dunk, ace in the hole, sure fire, stick it under your cap, can't be beat, butterfly nectar plant is the appropriately named Butterfly Bush. It has never let me down. If I wished to see what butterflies were visiting Alta Laguna Park, I always searched out the Butterfly Bush plants.

Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii is a rather largish plant that needs some room to grow, the average height being 6 - 8 feet tall with an eventual 4 - 6 foot diameter if not seasonally pruned.  There are dwarf varieties offered now that grow to only 3 - 4 feet high and as wide. Plant developers are coming out with even squatter varieties at 2 - 3 feet. The flower clusters faintly resemble lilac blooms, emitting a pleasant sweet aroma of their own. Drop dead easy to grow.

 Buddleia davidii

 The list of the various Buddleia (sometimes spelled Buddleja) cultivars is extensive. From my experience, the pale lavender varieties seem to be the best attractors. "Black Knight", a dark violet flowering selection has not worked very well for me, but others have noted it as being a very successful butterfly attractor in their yards.

For those wishing to grow one in more confined areas, dwarf varieties are good candidates for small gardens and medium to large pots. Even the tall ones can be successfully grown in a largish container. I picked up a compact grower, "Nanho Blue" at Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos. They have a good selection of  Buddleia varieties, both dwarf and regular, as I'm sure the other Green Thumb stores would also.

Below is a great little video on Buddleia. Open up to full screen to see all of the butterflies hovering about and feeding on the Butterfly Bush plants behind the nurseryman:


 How to Prune and Shape Buddleia. Butterfly Bush should be cut back yearly in order to promote next season's flowering, as they bud on new growth.

Lantana camara is one of my favorite colorful additions to a garden, irrespective if it is a butterfly garden or not. They sport flowers in the yellow, orange, to pink and red tones. Easy care and maintenance shrub. Skipper butterflies adore these nectar rich blooms! I find lantana "Confetti" to be a particularly good selection for attracting butterflies.

Lantana camara

Verbena bonariensis, or more commonly known as Purpletop Vervain is a short-lived perennial packing a lot of butterfly attracting power on the blossoming tips of its long flower stems. Delightfully airy, it makes its self well known without overpowering the rest of the garden. Self sows readily, so you will have a continuous supply of plants to replace aging ones, plus some left over to share with like-minded friends and neighbors.

Verbena bonariensis

Pentas lanceolata (Egyptian Starcluster) is another must have addition to any butterfly garden. It sports various shades of white, pink, red, and violet-hued blooms. The aptly named "Butterfly" series of Pentas are probably the best variety to purchase for a butterfly garden. The plants themselves are not eaten by vermin... I mean bunnies and deer, although deer tend to bite off the flowers and buds that develop.

The old fashioned strains are tops in producing nectar rich flowers, but have a habit of lanky growth and a tendency to be top heavy, which may cause them to flop over without staking or cradling. Beware of many of the newer compact selections offered in nurseries and seed packets today. They are bred for show and compactness, but the flowers are deficient in producing abundant amounts of nectar that butterflies feed on. Informal observations show that butterflies ignore these new varieties without so much as a second look back. The "Butterfly" series is bred for compactness and color, plus has the added bonus of producing copious amounts of nectar.

 Pentas lanceolata

Scabiosa "Butterfly Blue" is a stellar performer in the flower garden. It's nonstop production of pale violet blooms throughout its long active growing season, its ease of care, coupled with a magnetic attraction to butterflies like Justin Bieber is to prepubescent girl teenyboppers, "Butterfly Blue" is a top performer.

I did try Scabiosa at the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden, which was the end-all battlefield testing ground for deer and rabbit proofing. Unfortunately, it didn't pass muster, but I'm including it here for its excellent butterfly attracting quality.

Any of the various Scabiosa species - more commonly known as Pincushion Flower - are excellent candidates for the garden. Look great in rock gardens, along pathways, and make good potted specimens due to their ease of care, lower than average water requirements, and low, somewhat compact growth. Colors range from white, light blue, light violet, into pink. Highly recommended.
 Scabiosa "Butterfly Blue"

This list would be deficient without the addition of milkweeds. This family of herbaceous perennial and deciduous plants in the garden serves twofold purposes:
  1. Milkweed is the host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
  2. They are prolific nectar sources for adult butterflies in general.
There are many species of milkweed plants available, both foreign and domestic. North America is home to numerous species. California alone has many milkweeds that call this state home.

The most common milkweed for butterfly gardens is Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassivica from Mexico and Central America. It's a handsome plant that produces orange and red bi-colored blooms. Growers have extended the palette from solid yellow, to orange, and into vibrant orange and crimson bi-colored strains.

 Asclepias curassavica

For those wishing to try a native specie, the most beautiful would be the appropriately named Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Found throughout much of Central and Northern California and the Western United States, this native sports a large ball of pinkish to whitish blooms that hover over large, leathery leaves. Does well in both average garden conditions and drought tolerant native plant schemes. Very hardy. Deciduous.

Asclepias speciosa growing in its natural environment

Asclepias eriocarpa, also known as Indian Milkweed or Woolly Milkweed, would be an excellent candidate for those that wish to naturalize this genus on larger properties. It's a native of the western half of the U.S., and can be found growing throughout all of California. Several local areas it grows in known to me are out Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach along the Stagecoach hiking trail that meanders inside the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, the Santa Ana Mountains, the Palomar Mountain area, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Santa Rosa Plateau near Murrieta, and up in the San Gabriel Mountains.

A. eriocarpa grows naturally in many soil types, so it's not too fussy about what it sinks its roots in to. Being a So Cal native and drought tolerant also, this specie would be a prime candidate for naturalizing.

Photo courtesy of © Charlotte Masarik
Karen Schweger pointing out Asclepias eriocarpa growing alongside the Stagecoach Hiking Trail out Laguna Canyon, Laguna Beach, CA. The tall, yellow-flowering plants towards the back are Wild Fennel, a good source of nectar for all butterflies, and a host plant for the Anise Swallowtail. Unfortunately, Wild Fennel is considered an invasive species.

Photo courtesy of © Charlotte Masarik
A. eriocarpa

BTW: Green Thumb has a good assortment of butterfly plants, but one must know what to look for. Also check out Armstrong Garden Centers for butterfly plants. In the past, they have ordered and stocked plants labeled specifically for butterfly gardens.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

“A power of Butterfly must be -
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky -”

-Emily Dickinson

Finally, some much needed rain!

As you already know if you've been following this blog, over time, I've been online ordering a various assortment of seeds and small plants that aren't typically found at our local average nursery stores and are rated as good butterfly enticers.

One excellent online source for an extensive offering of not so common butterfly-specific plants is Annie's Annuals and Perennials, located in the Frisco bay area. She has a category list called Butterflies, in which I've already purchased a few in anticipation for a springtime planting.

Her nursery stock is nonpareil: beautifully healthy, securely packed for shipping, arrive at your doorstep fresh as a proverbial daisy, attributable to rapid delivery schedules,. They come in 4 inch nursery containers ready to be planted and potted. These are the ones I've ordered from Annie so far:

I'm curious to see how attractive they will be to butterflies in my neck of the woods. From all of the googling I've done on these particular plants, they should prove to be effective and handsome additions to a butterfly garden.

 One thing that severely limited the plant palette up at the Alta Laguna Park Butterfly Garden was the fact the park (and the whole neighborhood for that matter) is overrun with legendary legions of rapacious rabbits and marauding masses of despoiling deer.

With easy access these creatures have of the park and butterfly garden, only a handful of known bunny and deer resistant plants could survive the incessant browsing and munching accompanying these furry, darling, tender, and sweet creatures upon the landscape (he wrote whilst firmly biting down on tongue).

We do have some bunnies in my part of the 'hood, but since I'm using containers, they will have a next to impossible time getting to the plantings.

HA! Take that my little darlings!!!