Sunday, August 9, 2015

Butterflies and Blooms

I love a good success story when it comes to helping our natural communities, and this week I had a chance to visit one. Last year, I learned about an effort in Eatonton, GA to create a place that would support butterflies in abundance. The person spearheading the effort wanted to know how to find more larval host plants for native butterflies. Well, you don’t have to ask me twice about how to find and use more native plants!

Last year I watched this project (known as “Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch”) grow and literally blossom as picture after picture of gorgeous Georgia butterflies were shared on their Facebook page. Come spring of this year, the group of dedicated volunteers hosted a plant sale featuring native host plants and nectar sources. Their “patch” in an old field was growing bigger by the workday as volunteers carved out paths, created beds and built arbors that give rest to humans and support to native vines.

When I stopped by on Saturday, August 8th, the patch was buzzing with insect activity. Butterflies and skippers floated and hopped from bloom to bloom. Bees were there too, gathering pollen and sipping nectar. The more I looked, the more insects I found: grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, robber flies, dragonflies, wasps, and spiders were all there.  I circled the patch again and again, amazed at the diversity of insects. This project set out to support butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) and ended up netting a bigger chunk of the ecosystem.
Black swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail

A closer look with the help of the chief volunteer, Virginia, revealed the importance of the host plants that were tucked among the nectar plants. Caterpillars were spotted on the spicebush (Lindera benzoin), the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), the wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata), and herbs like parsley, fennel and rue. Monarch butterflies are just now arriving and milkweed awaits them. Caterpillars can be hard to spot – they don’t want any birds to find them! – so you can be sure there are many more caterpillars hiding in host plants then what we saw.

Giant swallowtail laying egg on rue

Giant swallowtails on Ptelea trifoliata leaves

For the curious visitor, excellent signage is there. Several large signs explain Lepidoptera life cycles.

A 4-page color Habitat Guide is available to take home. It includes a list of butterfly larval host plants for the butterflies that have come to the patch.

A map outlines where to find some of the host plants that have either been planted or documented as already existing on the property.

The patch will continue to grow. A large area of non-native grasses will be transformed this fall into a native prairie meadow. The list of native plants to purchase and acquire is already defined for the project. The plants being added will support even more species of butterflies and moths as both host and nectar plants.

Buckeye butterflies on rue

Bee on Ratibida columnifera

The volunteers come regularly to weed, water and observe the success of their efforts. The project is an amazing success story both as an educational effort and the insect life that it supports. The volunteers have educated themselves in the process as well as inspired countless new people to appreciate and support our native insects by using native host plants. Bravo!

Note: I would love to see more volunteer groups turn patches of unused sunny property into butterfly and insect habitat.This inspiring project deserves to be replicated in communities throughout Georgia and the rest of the country.


  1. My own yard could be written up this way. And the gigantic meadow at the Botanical Garden of Georgia as well. I just love this story.