Sunday, November 20, 2016

Slim Pickings

Butterflies are still flying but the floral resources are dwindling. Between the natural progression of the seasons and the very dry weather we’ve had for the last two months, the butterflies in my area have a choice between autumn sage (Salvia greggii), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), and some small white asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum).

Cloudless sulphur on Salvia greggii
The salvia plants are still blooming because I am careful to keep them watered for the butterflies. Both of these species will bloom until frost anyway, but they need supplemental watering this year to keep going. The most noticeable butterfly still around is the cloudless sulphur, a medium-sized butterfly with soft yellow wings. This species of butterfly loves the tubular flowers of salvia and have no interest in the small, shallow blooms of the aster.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea)

A few dark skippers are also still flying. Skippers like the scarlet sage as well as the asters. Occasionally, a bumblebee will visit the sage flowers too but they are few and far between these days. Tiny bees visit the asters.

Insects are very particular about the flowers they visit. The sulphurs have the ability to get nectar from the large tubular flowers of autumn sage, but the skippers have a shorter proboscis so they stick with the shorter flowers of scarlet sage and the asters. If any Gulf fritillaries come through, I don’t think they’ll find anything to eat. In the summer they like flowers like lantana and blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), and I don’t see them on the sages.

Cloudless sulphur on Salvia coccinea (white form)

You can see that supporting butterflies requires a variety of different types of flowers. When you’re thinking about the plants you’ll choose for next year’s butterfly garden, keep that in mind. I know I’ll keep trying to have these long-blooming sages in stock for the late butterflies in the years to come.


  1. Slim pickings in Coastal Georgia, too. Just a very few Gulf Frits, long-tailed skippers. Saw a Monarch land on Mexican Milkweed flower (surprised to see it this late). Spotted horsemint still doing well. Only pollinator is carpenter bee.

  2. Our mums came up, although they are very small. They were a big hit with butterflies last week! We were excited to notice a variegated fritillary on one. Richard got some good photos of it, I hope to do a post about it.