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DALLAS BUTTERFLIES

Move over husband Mike.  I’m in love, but I can’t spell—or pronounce–his name.

To bring you up to date, the old 8,000 square foot garden on Joe Field Road is now moved lock, stock, compost pile, tomato support, and rototiller to a fabulous new location at Midway Hills Christian Church, Royal Lane and Midway Road.  We also have a new name, Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, an Earth-Kind ® Water/Wise Demonstration Garden, a collaboration of the Dallas County Master Gardener Association, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Midway Hills Christian Church.

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

MHCC has generously offered us a 100’x300’ field for a new garden and plans are hatching.  Just like butterflies will—we hope—this spring.

We brainstormed the components that we wanted to bring (or not) to the new garden: vegetables, an education garden, and a wildlife habitat. And some new things we wanted to feature, like urban trees and turf.  But probably tops on people’s list was a butterfly garden.

Which brings me to my new love: skippers, brushfoots (not “feet), whites, sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, and swallowtails.  I’d like to learn to be a lepidopterist, but I’ve got to set some time aside to learn to roll out that moniker.

Diving into Butterflies of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and the Dallas County Lepidopterist’s Society website maintained by Dallas butterfly expert Dale Clark was absolutely fascinating.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

I learned if you want to attract grass skippers, you need an abundance of host grasses like bluestem and side-oats gramma in your garden.

Most gardeners know to plant dill, fennel, parsley, and rue for swallowtail caterpillars, but they also have a hankering for citrus, celery and Queen Anne’s Lace.

We’re familiar with the Pirinae family of sulphur’s and white’s passion for broccoli and cabbage. But the Coliadinae family of whites and sulphurs pine more for senna, marigolds, clover, and false indigo for host plants.

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk's Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk’s Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Hairstreaks look for oaks, mistletoe, Texas bluebonnets and okra. Blues are thrilled with frostweed, lima and garden beans, and snouts want sugarberry and net-leaf hackberry. Fritillaries swoon for maypop and passionvines, monarchs for milkweed.

Brushfoots remind me of a 17-year-old football player.  They’ll clean out your garden “refrigerator” of almost everything.  Wildflowers to thistles to American elm, to frogfruit are on the host plant menu.

As we’re planning the garden, there’s more to think about than host and nectar plants.  You want your plants in full sun (more nectar), have enough water to prevent wilting (nectar stops with inadequate moisture), use favorite colors of purple, pink, yellow and white, and include a variety of bloom shapes.  Some little guys forego the nectar plants and pull over for old fruit, a fermented sugar mixture, or a damp salt and sand mixture for amino acids.  Rocks and logs in the sun give a spot for basking.  Old logs and brush provide Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks a spot for hibernating.

The monarch has gotten a lot of press lately concerning the declining amount of milkweed necessary for its caterpillars.  We plan on having a Monarch Waystation, based on recommendations from Monarch Watch, filled with native and tropical milkweed for the trip north and favorite nectar plants for the fall migration to Mexico.

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

 

As our plans take place, we are looking forward to late spring and summer, and we hope, a large garden full of fluttering beauties.

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla and Ann and Janet

More about Monarchs!

 

Sex 101

How do you tell the “boys” from the “girls?”  In Monarch butterflies, that is.

The male Monarch butterflies have a scent gland on their lower hindwing that produce pheromones used to attract females:

Above: Male Monarch Butterfly

Above: Male Monarch Butterfly

The females on the other hand have wider veins giving them a somewhat darker appearance:

Above: Female Monarch Butterfly

Above: Female Monarch Butterfly

Our own Dallas County Master Gardener Janet D. Smith, a much requested speaker on such topics as “Sex in the Garden” and pollinators, says the following:  “I couldn’t remember if the black spot indicated if it is a male or female until I realized that it is normally the male of the species who has round things on the lower half of the body.  The darker veins on the female also remind me of eyeliner which for most of my life was only seen on women.”

Janet always gets a laugh from the audience after she tells her way of remembering how to sex Monarch butterflies— and you probably won’t forget how to tell the difference either.

Carolyn

 

Note: Both pictures courtesy of Janet D. Smith

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A Monarch Pit Stop

 

The first semi-cool days around October bring the annual Monarch butterfly migration through Dallas.   Some of the Monarchs, coming from the northern states, follow a corridor through Dallas as they continue on their trip to their wintering grounds in the highlands of Mexico.  These travelers need all the “fuel”/nectar they can get for their long journey.  Even an urban backyard can provide a respite for them.

Picture by Janet D. Smith

Picture by Janet D. Smith

One of the Monarch’s favorite nectar plants is frostweed, Verbesina virginica . It is such an exceptional nectar plant, drawing in not only Monarchs but also Pipevine Butterflies and Great Purple Hairstreaks, that it has been selected as monitoring plant by Monarch Watch.  Dale Clark, local butterfly rancher and founder of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society, says that he has seen Monarch butterflies literally drop out of the sky when they see a patch of frostweed.

Frostweed, a perennial, is a member of the sunflower family.  It will grow in sun but prefers shade or part shade.  It requires very little water.  Because it can grow up to six feet tall, it is best to use it in the back of a border and in a more natural, rather than formal, landscape.  It has large green leaves on a straight, winged stem.  Native Americans would sometimes roll the leaves and smoke them like tobacco.  It blooms in late September through October in Dallas, making it a perfect nectar plant for the migrating Monarchs.  The blooms are large composites, dirty white, and (at least to me) rather drab, but obviously Monarchs, bees, and small wasps see beyond superficial beauty and flock to it in droves.  Even a small group of frostweed plants may be covered with four or five Monarch butterflies on each flower.  It is a sight to behold!!

 

Picture by Larry Waisanen

Picture by Larry Waisanen

Like many plants, especially our native plants, frostweed has several common names. Karen H. Clary in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine’s October 2012 issue says:  “Frostweed has other names, including iceplant, white crownbeard, Indian tobacco and squawweed.  Native Americans- including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Mikasuki Seminole- used the leaves to treat fever, chills and body aches, and they used the roots as a purgative to treat indigestion.  Mat t Turner, in Remarkable Plants of Texas, attributes the name “squawweed” to a specific use for women.  Turner notes that the Kickapoo, as late as the 1970’s, were still using hot decoctions of the plant for near-term and post-partum issues, such as cleansing the womb and stanching excessive bleeding.”

Frostweed gets its most commonly used name from the fact that with the first freeze, its stem splits and sap oozes out of the winged stem.   The sap freezes into fantastic ribbons forming mini-ice sculptures.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center says that “the ice crystals formed on the stems of this and other plant species have been given many names – among them: ice ribbons, ice flowers, ice fringes, ice fingers, ice filaments, ice leaves, frost flowers, frost ribbons, frost freaks, frost beards, frost castles (Forrest M. Mims III http://www.forrestmims.org/gallery.html), crystallofolia (coined by Bob Harms at The University of Texas), rabbit ice and rabbit butter.”

Frostweed after Frost!

Frostweed after Frost!

There is one important fact to remember if you plant frostweed in your garden.  Not only is the “frost” part of its name representative of one of its important characteristics, but the “weed” part is too.  Just be careful, it will reseed freely—and probably in amended soils will spread rapidly by underground rhizomes.  I have my frostweed growing at home in un-amended black gumbo clay soil under the shade of a huge cedar elm.  I am also very careful to immediately cut off any flowers that are going to seed, bag them, and put them in the trash (not the compost pile).  Doing this I have never had problems with frostweed’s being an uncontrollable “weed.”

So, think about doing your part to help the Monarch “fuel up” for their long journey to Mexico.  Frostweed is a great plant for the Monarchs—but just take some extra precautions so it doesn’t become a “weed.”

Carolyn

 

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