Build It and They Will Come
Bees and Butterflies are Back, Baby
Bees and especially butterflies were scarce last year, but they have made a spectacular comeback this summer, at least in my gardens. All the rain of early summer promoted robust growth of my prairie plants and the insects are deliriously happy.
This is my west side yard, in full sun most of the afternoon.
Red Admiral has been the most numerous butterfly by far; in addition, there have been 2 or 3 Monarchs swooping about; I’ve seen a Tiger Swallowtail, a Fritillary, an Orange Sulfur, just today, and a tiny black butterfly–perhaps a Common Sootywing?
Red Admiral on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Purple Coneflower is the nation’s most popular perennial flower, its cultivars the darlings of Garden Centers and catalos. The jury is, however, still out on whether the cultivars are as attractive to insects as the straight species is. Common as it is in home gardens, it is rare in the wild. It’s more likely to be found in savannas than in prairies. It readily self-seeds, multiplying in the home garden.
Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower.
In my experience, in my own yard, butterflies favorite flowers are Purple Coneflower, Blazing Star, and Joe Pye Weed, in bloom now; and Stiff Goldenrod, Showy Goldenrod, New England Aster, and Aromatic Aster in the fall. Do you see a pattern here? Purple is the butterfly’s favorite color.
Tiger Swallowtail playing hide and seek with me in the Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).
The vanilla scented, mauve, fringed flower heads of Joe Pye Weed bloom at the top of 4-7’ tall stems in July and August. A butterfly magnet, it attracts Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, and Painted Ladies.
In the wild, Joe Pye Weed is found in savannas and woodlands, but in my gardens it grows anywhere and everywhere, part shade to full sun. I first planted it along my partly shaded north property line where it makes a superb privacy screen. It has since popped up in almost every garden. I like to see it grown at one side of a window where it provides a continuing show of butterflies, bees, and in fall, a feeding station for Goldfinches. It increases by rhizomes and seed.
Bees are numerous: Bumble Bees and others–all sizes and shapes.
Bumble Bee on Purple Cone Flower.
Bee on Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) earlier in July.
A purple fringed tutu of blossoms climbs the tubular cone and becomes a long purple cylinder as the season progresses. Bright purple-stemmed, golden-orange anthers make a stunning contrast to the petals. It grows 1-3’ tall on stiff stems with needle-like leaves.
Elegant candelabras of densely-flowered spires of tiny white tubular blossoms form at the top of the 2’ to 6’ Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) in July. Protruding, gold-tipped stamens give the flowers a fringed appearance and are wildly attractive to bees. This photo was taken in mid-July.
I, too, seem to be attractive to Red Admirals. They have perched on my arms, in my lap, and here on my hat. What can I say?