Help Save Butterfly Habitat
It is Spicebush season in the butterfly garden. In the spring, Northern Spicebush is one of the first native shrubs to bloom. The flowers of Northern Spicebush are numerous, pale yellow, lightly fragrant, and, under the right weather conditions, can bloom for up to two weeks.
Fitting Northern Spicebush into a garden is easy. Shrubby by nature, it can be kept to a small size by cutting back the larger branches every so often. It can even be cut back to the ground, with new growth coming back as a profusion of twiggy stems. In fact, older large bushes tend to become brittle and benefit from a trim before limbs break under winter snow loads.
Butterflies do not often visit Northern Spicebush flowers for nectar; other small insects, including bees and flies, primarily cross-pollinate the spring flowers. Starting in late spring or early summer, the Spicebush Swallowtail will lay eggs on the Northern Spicebush leaves. The resulting caterpillars will feast on the leaves until it is time for them to pupate.
Spicebush finishes the garden season with colorful leaves. If you happen to have both a male and female Northern Spicebush in your garden, fall will also bring on a brief display of red berries on the female Northern Spicebush. Look for the berries in late summer to early fall. They are a favorite food of many birds and mammals so they will not be left on the shrubs for very long.
Butterfly Feeders are not necessary for butterflies but they are necessary for some butterfly gardeners! Putting a butterfly feeder in your garden brings the butterflies down to viewing level, letting you know which butterflies are visiting your garden without chasing around to find them.
The best place to put your feeder is near a spot that is easily seen, be that out near a nectar filled flower border or in front of your window. When starting with a butterfly feeder, a location close to your house might be best place to start so that you can monitor it. Feeders also often need to be brought in at night to avoid non-butterfly feeding (think raccoon, opossum, bear…), which is yet another reason to place the feeder in a location where it will not be forgotten.
Different locations use different butterfly bait so some experimentation is necessary. Some NABA members have shared details of the bait that works for them in their locations. The following report and photo are from Lenora Larson in Eastern Kansas in her NABA Certified Butterfly Garden #77:
“Here’s my fruit feeder with a Viceroy and a Goatweed Leafwing. I use both oranges and “Mung”—the fermented banana, beer & molasses mix. I have to bring it in every night because of Rocky Raccoon. It’s a ceramic pie plate (easy to clean) set on a 3 foot pedestal with paths on both sides because photography is my goal in attracting these beauties.”
The photo sent by Lenora is from September 2013 but Lenora already has the feeder out this spring in anticipation of butterfly activity on sunny spring days. She reports already seeing Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, Goatweed Leafwings, Red Admirals, Spring Azures, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and the ubiquitous Cabbage White out in the garden.
Do you use a butterfly feeder? What is your location and what have you found is the best butterfly bait?
Many trees and shrubs offer caterpillar food and are therefore important to include in a butterfly garden if you wish to help increase butterfly populations. Of course, trees and shrubs are not always the easiest plant to fit into a garden, yard, or balcony!
Whether you are short on space or simply don’t have the interest in growing trees and shrubs, you might still want to take inventory of trees and shrubs in your area which could be important caterpillar food plants. Even if you are only able to provide nectar plants in your yard or garden, knowing the full life cycle of butterflies in your area will enrich your experience butterfly watching experience.
Spring is the best time to examine your neighborhood trees and shrubs and requires no trespassing. During the spring blooming period, it is often easy to spot a tree or shrub at a distance that might otherwise go unnoticed during the rest of the year.
Two trees that are easy to identify during their spring blooming period are Northern Spicebush and Black Cherry. While Northern Spicebush provides caterpillar food for only one butterfly, the Spicebush Swallowtail, Black Cherry is happily devoured by Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purples, and Coral Hairstreaks.
Look for Northern Spicebush with its early yellow flowers that cling closely up and down each branch and blooms early in spring. Black Cherry blooms later than Northern Spicebush. It is a tall tree with drooping white flowers that are easily seen at a distance.
This spring however, one butterfly, the Monarch, needs a little extra care and encouragement. Monarch populations are low and as the spring migration progresses, we can extend a special welcome to Monarchs by making sure that the nectar plants they favor are available in our gardens.
Pollinator Partnership has four brochures listing nectar plants that are favored by Monarchs as they migrate along the East Coast. Each brochure is specific to a certain part of the eastern migration route and can serve as a guide to direct gardeners towards which nectar plants should be in bloom when Monarchs pass through. The guides remind us to also plant milkweed which is used as a nectar plant as well as for caterpillar rearing.
No time to get ready for the spring migration? The guides also list nectar plants that will be blooming during the fall migration. Plants put in the ground this spring, should be flowering nicely by fall, ready for Monarchs as they head towards Mexico.
The Pollinator Parthership guides start in the Green Zone for Florida and parts of Georgia. The Orange Zone is continues with plant suggestions for some of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Blue Zone covers part of North Carolina and Virginia. And finally, the Yellow Zone covers the time from mid-May through mid-June when the Monarchs pass through part of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Not only will the nectar plants suggesting in these guides appeal to Monarchs but to many other butterflies and pollinators as well.
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