Sunday, March 15, 2015

Winning Weeds

About the time that the common violets (Viola sororia) started blooming this week, Doug Tallamy had an op-ed in the New York Times about essential plant/insect relationships. For those of you that haven’t heard of Dr. Tallamy and his entomological message about plants and insects, it’s a compelling tale. If you know about the monarch butterfly and its relationship with milkweed (Asclepias sp.) then you already have the gist of it.

Tiny bluets (Houstonia) can be found in thin grassy areas

The op-ed included a photo gallery of plants and wildlife (insects, birds, and others - beautiful pictures as always) that have a relationship with those plants. While some relationships were about wildlife that eat the plants’ fruit, others were about insects that use the plants as larval hosts: monarch butterflies and milkweed, zebra swallowtail butterflies and paw paws (Asimina sp.), and violets (Viola sp.) and fritillary butterflies.

Of course the common violet is considered a pesky lawn weed by many folks but it’s time that it and other “weeds” get the credit they deserve for their important role in keeping butterflies flying. Here are just a few of the butterflies that depend on plants that might otherwise be considered weeds:

Great spangled fritillary butterfly – Violets (Viola sp.)
American lady butterfly – pussytoes (Antennaria  sp.), cudweed (Gnaphalium sp.), and ragwort (Senecio sp.)
Spotted thyris moth – bluets (Houstonia sp.)
Skippers, wood nymphs and satyrs – native grasses (Panicum sp., Andropogon sp. and others)
Cloudless sulphurs – native legumes such as partridge pea (Chamaecrista sp.)
Gray hairstreaks, skippers and eastern tailed blues – tick-trefoil (Desmodium sp. and related plants)
Question mark, comma, painted lady, and red admiral butterflies – nettles (Urtica sp. and related plants)

Cloudless sulphur butterfly

The next time that you come across a "weed" and decide to get rid of it, you might just want to check whose breakfast, lunch and dinner it is. Some of these native weeds are real winners.

Red admiral butterfly

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go find some nettles.

If you're interested in learning more about butterflies? Check out the North American Butterfly Association and its new Georgia chapter. 

1 comment:

  1. I've always loved the little bluetts. Thank goodness I live in the country where yard perfection of a subdivision does not intrude. My yard is aflame in yellow dandelions, purple wild geraniums, bluetts, volunteer muesli. I have a patch of volunteer violets in my back flowerbed.