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.