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A HOMEGROWN TRADITION: Blooming beauties for butterflies


A HOMEGROWN TRADITION: Blooming beauties for butterflies

Butterflies, in this humble gardener’s opinion, are hands down some of the most
beautiful and intriguing creatures around.

I mean, think about it. What other organism do you know that uses scales to fly? Wanna dig a little deeper? These scaled wings are actually translucent. The colors and patterns we observe result from reflections of these minute tiny scales that compose the wings.

A few additional facts for all you budding entomologists and trivia players, compliments
of the San Diego Zoo.

  • Butterflies taste with their feet.

    butterflies
    Top: monarch on coneflower; above: black swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel. // AMY DISMUKES
  • A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter.
  • Butterflies are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Butterfly wings move in a figure “8” motion.
  • Metamorphosis, the process by which a caterpillar magically transforms into a butterfly, is completed in 10 to 15 days, depending on the species.
  • Because butterflies are insects, they are essentially cold-blooded.
  • Most butterflies fly at 5 to 12 mph.
  • Butterflies have ears.
  • Butterflies have a long, tube-like tongue called a proboscis that allows them to soak up their food rather than sip it.
  • Puddling is a behavior exhibited by males, where they drink from mud puddles to extract salts and minerals unavailable in flowers, often observed in groups or ‘puddle clubs’.

Now for the good stuff. PLANTS!

butterflies
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar // AMY DISMUKES

Gardening for these gorgeous guests is really quite easy, simply grow host plants for those you desire.
Remember, where there are butterflies, there will be caterpillars. It’s just part of life (the life cycle), so you’ll want to be prepared for the voracious foragers frequenting the foliage of your blooming beauties! If you’re looking to nibble on said foliage, like maybe dill, fennel or parsley, plant a second: one for you and one for the eastern black swallowtail caterpillars that really groove on these particular herb plants!

Whether you are looking to build a new bed or incorporate butterfly host and nectar plants into your existing landscape, the basics are the same.

First and foremost, become familiar with native species in middle Tennessee. There are tons of reference guides available.

butterflies
Eastern black swallowtail on anise hyssop. // AMY DISMUKES

The first that comes to mind is Rita Venable’s ‘Butterflies of Tennessee’, a book that showcases all 124 species of Tennessee butterflies, including plant lists, fun facts and even tips for better butterfly watching.

After meeting the natives, research plant particulars for your specific landscape.

Generally, we know what we’re working with. Sun versus shade or standing water and compaction versus a well-draining soil, etc. Remember to choose both nectar and caterpillar food. Just like humans, the babies are much pickier about what they eat versus adults, so don’t forget to include larval host plants in addition to nectar plants.

Selecting the site of your new butterfly garden should follow the same concept as any other garden. Make sure you have diversity among your plant selections. Choose natives along with a few hybrids for your butterfly friends. Don’t forget to provide shelter sites, be it a butterfly house or a native feature, water and sunlight. Because butterflies are cold-blooded, they must start the day by warming, so rocks or even exposed soil can be beneficial in getting these guys moving.

There are many phenomenal resources available online, including Xerces Society, the North American Butterfly Association, Butterfly Foundation, Save Our Monarchs and more. The University of Tennessee research-based publication “Butterfly Gardening” (PB1636) is also available for FREE download or print. Take a peek and see what you think!

If you wanna see things in action, make sure to stop by the Riverbend Nursery ‘Butterfly House’ in the 4-H Village at the Williamson County Fair, August 3-11, in Franklin … if you already didn’t know, we’re gaga for butterflies too!

butterflies“A Home Grown Tradition” is written by Amy Dismukes. Amy is the UT/ TSU  Horticulture Extension Agent for Williamson County, Tennessee and is a graduate of Auburn University, where she received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology & Entomology. She provides educational training for both homeowner and commercial clientele regarding issues concerning horticulture, conducts site visits throughout the county to diagnose and resolve issues with insects, plant diseases, soil and weeds, and is a frequent guest speaker for professional, garden and horticultural associations and commercial pesticide workshops/conferences. Amy also coordinates the Williamson County Master Gardener Program. Please email any questions or concerns to Amy at ahomegrowntradition@gmail.com.

This column includes research-based recommendations from Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. Extension is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.
Educational programs serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation or national origin.

 

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