November 15, 2014

A garden full of butterflies

mourning cloak

Can you imagine a garden without butterflies? Or a neighborhood, or a world without butterflies? Lately, I've been thinking how sad it would be if my grandchildren (or great-nieces or great-nephews or later generations) couldn't experience the beauty of a simple butterfly.

(Don't worry, this post won't be overly melancholic. There is reason to worry about butterflies' survival in our world, but I'll save that for another post.)

It's not difficult, currently, for me to imagine that kind of world because my garden has gone to sleep for the winter. I won't see butterflies for a few months now. Then again, I have the hope that I'll see many again when the weather warms.

Today, I'm simply thankful for what I've experienced. And hopeful that future generations will be able to experience these graceful insects, too.

In this part of the world, the past growing season has blessed us with plentiful butterflies of many species. For me, it started in early April, with the first one being a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), shown in the first photo of this post. It gracefully floated by my window on a warm breeze and landed in a sunny spot to bask. Mourning Cloaks are often the first and last butterflies we see here each season.

american copper

Next came the plentiful American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas)--too numerous to count--up at our cottage in Marquette County. An open field there is thick with Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), which likely explains their abundance as it's a larval host plant for the species.

red admiral 2

Then, one late afternoon in early summer, as I was gazing outside, I noticed several bright, orange-red butterflies darting and swooping and then returning to the same spot. When I went outside to investigate, I discovered they were Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta). Apparently, this flight pattern is common for this species.

red admiral 1

It seemed to be a good year for Red Admirals. I saw them in numerous spots throughout the state and throughout the season. This one even landed on my pant leg as I was photographing plants.

tawny 2

Just as I was about to stop posting oranges for the Orioles, this little fellow showed up. I learned it was a Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton), which often feeds on rotting fruit.

tawny 1

This Tawny Emperor (or a friend) made repeated visits, and for a few days in a row it rested on and consumed the oranges for several hours straight.


Near the same spot at our cottage where I saw the American Coppers and the Red Admirals, this Red-Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) paid a visit. At one point, it landed on the fishman's hand, and then basked in the sun in the upper branches of this Ash tree.


On various hikes throughout the summer, we saw Viceroys (Limenitis archippus), which mimic Monarchs; and

pearl crescent

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos), a very common butterfly in the Eastern U.S.

giant 2

And then there were the surprises, like this Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), which is less common in my state. I don't ever recall seeing one before. It was huge--I'd estimate a wingspan of five to six inches! It was difficult to photograph, because its wings flapped so fast. (The above photo is a stop-action clip from a video.)

giant 1

In this photo, you can see the beautiful, bright underside of its wings. I learned that, along with Monarchs, the Giant Swallowtail is attracted to Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and that its larval host plants include members of the Citrus family.

giant cat 1

Another host plant is Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), which is more common in my northern locale than Citrus. I nearly missed this Giant Swallowtail (and its friend below) when I walked by it during a hike one day. It's hard to believe a squishy caterpillar can survive those sharp thorns, but I guess it knows what it's doing.

giant cat 2

Its camouflage makes it look like bird droppings. Fascinating.

black swallowtail 1

I also had the pleasure of seeing many Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). (I didn't get any decent photos of the latter this year and I didn't want to cheat by using an old photo from last year. Tiger Swallowtails didn't seem quite as numerous this year as last--at least not in my garden and surroundings.)

black swallowtail 2

There was something mystical about this scene. This battered butterfly was somewhat difficult to identify and was probably at the end of its life. But it had just enough markings on its wings and body to identify it as another Black Swallowtail.

monarch 1

Believe it or not, the most plentiful butterfly in my garden this year was the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). By now, I suppose, just about everyone is aware that their numbers (at least the migrating Monarchs in the central and Eastern U.S.) were at a record low in North America in 2013.

But starting in mid-June this year, their numbers began exploding in this part of the state. And once the Swamp Milkweed began to bloom in my garden, I saw at least one (and sometimes many more) each day. I felt truly blessed.

monarch cat 1

During a trip to the cottage, I found this Monarch caterpillar. The property is thick with Milkweed plants of various species. I believe this is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Later in the summer, when I transplanted some A. syriaca to my home garden, I found a tiny instar cat, which I supplied with fresh Milkweed in a very sheltered area of the garden. I didn't bring it inside to raise it (which I regret), but it was a very healthy fifth instar before it crawled away to form a chrysalis.

monarch 2

We also saw many Monarchs during our hikes, like this healthy one enjoying nectar from a Thistle.

monarch 3

I never did find the chrysalis from that Monarch cat in my garden, but about 10-12 days later, two fresh and healthy, nearly perfect Monarchs were mating and then resting on the Yew shrubs. One seemed to linger a bit before it floated away on a breeze. Silly me for thinking it was the one I'd fed and nurtured.

monarch 4

There were still many more Monarchs to see--nearly every time I hiked.

monarch 5

One autumn day at the cottage, we saw numerous Monarchs migrating gracefully along the lakeshore, resting briefly on leaves and on flowering plants in the bright sunlight.

I thought, perhaps, those would be among the last Monarchs I would see. But they kept coming.

monarch 6

The last butterflies I saw this season were these Monarchs and their 10 or so friends. We'd already had a light frost, and I didn't expect to see anymore. But a fortuitous trip to the northeast corner of Lake Mendota to photograph fall foliage revealed this gift. It was an unexpected moment of grace.

I thought it would be fun to try out Google's Auto Awesome feature with some of my butterfly photos and videos. All you have to do is create a folder in Google Photos and add your photos and videos. The Google people automatically add music and transitions, and then notify you when your Auto Awesome video is ready. I should have labeled the photos so perhaps they would have added text, too. But as simple as it is, the resulting video is light and rather hopeful. I like the way it ends with the fifth instar Monarch caterpillar.

I'm not active on Google+, so I'm still trying to figure out how to post the video here, directly into Blogger. Any suggestions?

What a beautiful world it is when the butterflies (and caterpillars) are with us!

Thanks to and Butterflies and Moths of North America, for help identifying these and other species of butterflies.

(I'm taking a short break. My next planned post will be at the end of the month for the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. To all those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I do hope you'll have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday. And thanks, to everyone who reads this, for your friendship!)

November 10, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: We're Not Dead Yet

snapdragons 2

Are you familiar with the movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" or the play, "Spamalot"? If so, you're aware of the scenes that include "Not Dead Fred." This is definitely black humor: A supposed plague victim in England during the Middle Ages is carried out to be carted away for burial, but declares, "I'm not dead," and later--as the scene continues--"I'm getting better."

snapdragons 1

I kept imagining that scene on Sunday as I put the potager garden to bed for the winter. Most of the plants were indeed "dormant" or, in the case of the annuals, "dead." But the Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix') seemed to be screaming at me, "We're not dead yet!" I could have clipped them off and thrown them into the compost pile or left them standing. Instead I clipped off the very healthy flowerless stems, thinking I could use them for an arrangement.

That's what I started with when I contemplated an arrangement for today's "In a Vase on Monday" meme. It's hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Next, I searched the bleak landscape for other elements for my arrangement. I have to tell you I'm happier with the idea for this one than the eventual result--mainly because I ran out of time at the end of the day to perfect it. But the elements--in greater quantities--could have made a lovely bouquet.

They included:


Foliage from the Highbush Cranberry (Virburnum trilobum);


Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fruit and stems;

sea oats

Seed heads and stems from Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium);


A nearly dried Hydrangea (H. macrophylla) flower head; and

fern spore frond

Spore fronds from Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

In the end, those Snapdragon stems were screaming to stay together, alone, in their own vase. They just didn't fit with the dried, autumn arrangement.


So I kept them in the vase and plopped them on the front porch with the pumpkins. Who knows how long they'll last with the deep freeze on the way, but this way they have the display they deserve.

dried bouquet

The dried arrangement would have looked decent by the fireplace, but I had to put it on the back porch so the cat wouldn't eat it. I need to shorten the outer stems a bit, but this is close.


I didn't include these Cosmos (C. bipinnatus 'Versailles Mix') in the dried arrangement either. I cut them on Oct. 30, and they're still blooming. Impressive vase life!

Head on over to Cathy's blog for other inspirational bouquets and arrangements.

November 06, 2014

Tree following: late autumn camouflage

curly leaves

Let's be honest: We're entering the gray/brown time of year here in the Upper Midwest. While there's beauty in even the starkest of seasons, it can be a little shocking after, arguably, the most colorful month on our calendar: October, with its unbelievable bright reds, oranges, yellows, and greens.

The reality is that the Shagbark Hickories are still alive outside my kitchen window, though they appear to be dying as their leaves curl ... brown and gnarly against the cold winds of November.


I've been following our Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata) this year, linking my posts with Lucy's tree following meme, over at Loose and Leafy. I thought it would be fun this month to show you the view out my kitchen window. This is looking up a bit, through a less-than-perfect pane of glass, but you get the idea. Some of the trees still have leaves, but most are bare.

Note that I used the description "late autumn" for the title. It's cold here, and many of you in other climes would consider this late autumn or even deep winter weather--with highs slightly above freezing, and lows much below that. Snow is in the forecast for three days next week.

gray and brown

So these leaves are emblematic of what's ahead for us for the next few months.

I was starting to feel a little down about it all--dry, curled leaves ... gray bark and sky ... cold, short days--when some hardy birds entered my field of view.

robin bath

It started with a brave, little Robin just below the window. This is shot through a screen, but it shows my view. Other birds followed, and I found myself looking up into the Shagbark trees again.

where's robin

Do you see the Robin?

where's robin 2

How about now?

where's robin revealed

Does this help? How's that for camouflage? (You can click on any of the photos for a larger view.)

robin pumped

These little guys brightened my day. And it's likely snow will brighten the Shagbarks--and the landscape--for my next tree following post in December.

Head on over to Lucy's blog to learn about trees from around the world. I'm also linking in with Tina's Wildlife Wednesday meme at My Gardener Says, although I'm a day late.

curly 2

October 31, 2014

Plant of the Month: 'Fireworks' Goldenrod


It's the last day of October, and I'm just squeaking by with a plant of the month post (scary!). This plant is not in my garden, but we planted it in a pollinator garden I worked on this past growing season.

This species of Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) is "a variable species and is divided into two subspecies, the typical one subdivided into three varieties," according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 'Fireworks' seemed to be later-blooming than many of the other Goldenrods in my area this season.


When it first starts blooming, the arching stems have just a hint of gold, and look like sparks of fireworks. At full-bloom, it forms a mound of lovely goldenness. The height and spread (depending on spacing) are roughly equal, at about 3 to 5 feet in both directions.

This Goldenrod grows best in sun, in medium-to-wet but well-drained soil. It's native from Ontario, Canada, south through Texas, U.S., and points east. Other nicknames include Rough, Rough-Stemmed, or Roughleaf Goldenrod.

Godenrod and Hyssop

The color and form make it a great companion to Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

But my favorite aspect of this beautiful late bloomer is its value to pollinators--as it attracts butterflies, and is listed by The Xerces Society as "special value" to native bees and honeybees, and it supports conservation control.

The pollinators were enjoying it late into the growing season, when it was in its full glory and many other blooming plants were fading.