Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Butterflies and native plants

Last Sunday was anything but bright and sunny, but in spite of the overcast conditions butterflies were scudding through the forests of southern Ohio in large numbers. This group of mineral-seeking males - such assemblages are sometimes termed "puddle parties" had congregated on a rural lane in Adams County. Four species are present: Eastern tiger swallowtails, zebra swallowtails, a pipevine swallowtail, and a spicebush swallowtail.

The odd fleshy flowers of a pawpaw, Asimina triloba. The flowers burst before the leaves unfurl, and it's easy to miss them. The blooms like like little galls at a quick glance.

Where I was exploring, the pawpaws were abundant and so were zebra swallowtails. No coincidence there; the pawpaw is the host plant for this gorgeous butterfly. There are two, perhaps sometimes three, annual broods of zebra swallowtails in these parts, and the batches look different. The spring form, such as the one above, are smaller than those from later broods. This is probably because their caterpillars dined on older leaves of pawpaw plants of late summer and fall, and then overwintered as chrysalises. Individuals from later broods are more robust -they fed on the young, nutrient-dense leaves of the pawpaws - a supercharged diet, essentially.

A pendant flower cluster of bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia. A beautiful native shrub, or perhaps treelet, bladdernut typically forms colonies on stream terraces and lower slopes. Why it isn't employed more frequently in the nursery trade is a mystery to me. Everything about the plant is cool, from these showy flowers to the green-striped bark to the overall aesthetically pleasing look of the plant. The fruit, which come much later, resemble miniature Chinese lanterns and hang from the plants nearly throughout winter.

I came across a sizeable bladdernut colony, and was floored by the sheer numbers of swallowtails swarming the flower clusters. At one point, there must have been 50-75 eastern tiger swallowtails swirling around and tussling over favored nectar fueling stations.

So, we can add butterfly-attractant to the pluses of bladdernut.

If you want to learn boatloads of information about native plants, participate in some great field trips, AND have the opportunity to purchase some of the most desirable native plants, sign on for the Midwest Native Plant Conference.



Jan Kennedy said...

Nice! Southern Ohio has so much to show us.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Jan! I sure hope they don't frack under those forests. You're anti-fracking, I believe? :-)

Jan Kennedy said...

We're working the anti-fracking frontlines. I liked your Earth Day post. You have to do one like that against fracking. See, I gave you a blog post idea. ;)

There won't be any forests to frack under in southern Ohio after they're done with prescribed burns and clear-cutting in Shawnee. Remember those photos I showed you at Amish Birds?

Anyway, I'm a sucker for zebra swallowtails. I'm glad you posted some pictures of them.