Sunday, August 31, 2014


This butterfly came through the garden this week, stopping to nectar on a tall thorough - wort (Eupatorium serotinum). This lovely insect is the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly. 

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
As I took pictures of it, it occurred to me that this butterfly didn’t just come through my garden, it was likely born in my garden! Yep, I have homegrown butterflies.

The American lady butterfly lays eggs on plants like Antennaria plantaginifolia, which is a charming groundcover known as pussytoes. 

Vanessa virginiensis caterpillar

The eggs hatch and each caterpillar creates a tent for itself while feeding on the foliage until it reaches maturity. I often find these tents on my pussytoes and have occasionally peeked inside to see the caterpillar.

Cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
A few days later a cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) butterfly appeared. It was happily sipping nectar on cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). 

I have plenty of native legumes in my yard and have been especially growing more partridge pea (Chamaecrista spp.) to attract female sulphurs to lay eggs on them.

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

The Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Georgia’s state butterfly, is a frequent visitor which is no surprise. Caterpillar hosts include two of our most common trees – the black cherry (Prunus serotina) and the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). I imagine that they hatch out here on a regular basis after feasting on the trees around.

Butterfly populations have been down this year. This picture of a male and female swallowtail was taken in 2012 in a patch of lantana (non-native) that had about 8 at once.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)

All of these butterflies are courtesy of native plants. Without native plant hosts, these and many other butterflies would not be around. 

If you’d like to “grow” a few of your own, add some Georgia native plants to your garden.


  1. Nice job, Ellen! And, thank you for highlighting Pussytoes, one of my favorite little under-appreciated native plants.

  2. I enjoyed your post. I can't remember how long I've been growing pussytoes, which are also native here in Nebraska. I am trying to remember if I used to see Painted ladies as often as I do now. I am seeing one or two each day, but guess where I see them the most right now, the one butterfly bush I still have! LOL

  3. Oops! I don't see American ladies much. It's the Painted ladies I see. I'll go check to see what their host plants are.