gardening, nature

A Butterfly Talks: Swallowtails in the garden

A butterfly talks to each flower
And stops to eat and drink,
And I have seen one lighting
In a quiet spot to think;
For there are many things he sees that puzzle him, indeed,
And I believe he thinks as well as some who write and read.

Poem by Annette Wynne

In Robert Heinlein’s book The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Captain John Sterling says, “Butterflies are not insects. They are self-propelled flowers.”

To watch a butterfly dance about a patch of flowers, one must surely think the butterfly a self-propelled flower. But – to appreciate the butterfly – one must also appreciate its caterpillar.

In my previous post, I shared photographs of the gulf fritillary caterpillar feasting on its host plant, the passionvine, in my melodious garden. Today I would like to share photographs of the swallowtail, both as butterfly and as caterpillar.

Each species of butterfly has its own requirements for a host plant. The swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on fennel, dill, parsley and a few more botanically related plants. In the above photograph, the swallowtail is flitting over a patch of fennel in my garden, depositing its eggs.

When planting these herbs, especially if one is wanting to welcome in swallowtail butterflies, it is best to plant more than you think you ever might need. Trust me. If the butterflies find it, you will be grateful for having enough to go around. If you have ever heard the old saying, “Four seeds in a row. One for the crow. One for the mouse. One to rot. And one to grow,” this holds especially true when planting host plants for butterflies. Plant two herbs for the butterflies and two for you. Or, better yet, ten for the butterflies and two for you.

Butterflies, like all insects, lay dozens of eggs at one time as few ever make it through to the adult stage. The caterpillar hatches from the egg, eats its shell, then begins feasting on its host plant. The photographs above and below show the swallowtail butterfly as a young caterpillar.

The caterpillars continue to eat and grow and eat some more. Their appearance changes quite a bit from young caterpillar to mature caterpillar.

I am always drawn out to the garden to count the caterpillars and to watch them grow, as it seems they grow from morning to evening.

And this – this is the reward!

One can see why a poet would write that the butterfly talks to each flower.

To watch butterflies come full circle in the garden is such a rewarding experience. In my nearly three decades of gardening this plot of land, I have never tired of watching caterpillars feast and grow in my garden.

Starting a butterfly garden is relatively simple. First, choose the right location within your garden, as butterflies prefer sunny locations. Research which butterflies inhabit your region and which host plants they need to lay their eggs on. Be sure to plant a mix of host plants and flowers. The flowers will attract the butterflies and they will feed on the nectar those flowers provide. The host plants will provide a place for the butterflies to lay their eggs. Eliminate pesticides in your garden, as those are dangerous to butterflies and caterpillars. Expect your plants to be eaten! Remember: If something isn’t eating your plants, your garden isn’t part of the ecosystem! Finally, sit back and watch these self-propelled flowers flutter about your garden.

Keep Calm and Plant A Butterfly Garden.

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