While Monarchs have been rare this summer, there have been lots of Black Swallowtails around laying eggs in St. Louis. I have personally raised or given away about thirty caterpillars to schools.
Luckily Black Swallowtails have a wide palette of host plants. These include, bronze fennel (their favorite this year), rue (also good for Giant Swallowtails), Golden Alexander – Zizia aptera, dill. fennel, Parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace. If you see a caterpillar on any of these plants, there’s a good chance it’s a Black Swallowtail.
Here are videos from the University of Missouri and their Center for Agroforestry. While the videos are meant mainly for farmers, it’s also valuable information for any gardener.
Scott Hoffman Black
I just found a new podcast that I’m enjoying, Smarter Every Day, and found that he did a whole series on butterflies. I think you will enjoy it.
Here’s the link for the entire series.
Below is a link to just one of the videos.
Ideally butterflies will find plenty of nectar in the flowers they find outside, but there are occasions when the flowers are gone and you want to feed some butterflies which have come out late in the fall or very early in the spring. Here are some possible solutions.
Note – the reason this subject came up was because a friend had a butterfly house, that I used to think were a waste of money. The house was outside until January 1st, when she brought it inside. The next day, a Mourning Cloak came out into the house. She has been feeding it every day for the last three weeks.
Fruit – I’ve used watermelon and orange slices and honeydew melon.
Gatorade – I use the plain version. I’ve also heard of people using Juicy Juice.
Hummingbird mix – 4 to 1 mix of water to sugar.
Monarch Watch – sugar/honey – 1 part to 9 parts water.
Nigel Venters Mix – 1# fructose, 1 cup water, bring to a boil for 2 minutes and then add 1 tsp of soy sauce. Use this as a concentrate. Add to water in a 1 part concentrate to 9 parts water.
Honey to Water – 1 to 10 mix
Monarch Watch has an artificial nectar mix they sell. I bought one and here are the directions.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 cups of water warm water
- 1-2 drops of food color (why would they add this?)
- 1 drop fruit extract – any kind.
- Contents of the packet – there is no indication what this is other than some sort of preservative.
- They tell you to keep this in the refrigerator and it should last for months.
- Note – this small packet has about 15 nuggets of bee pollen. Some dissolves and some doesn’t. This seems like a simple ingredient to add to any mix. I take bee pollen every day so I always have some around.
Monarch Watch also suggests putting the nectar up high and near a light source.
One of the native plants that I recommend for most gardens is Slender Mountain Mint or Pycnanthemum tenuifolium.
What’s good about this plant is that it attracts a lot of butterflies and bees, lives a long time and blooms almost all summer long.
What’s bad about the plant is that it wants to spread and is a bit invasive. I just spent about three hours digging it out of a couple areas and have the blisters to prove it. It’s not as bad as common mint, but it definitely will take over an area if you let it.
I still have two areas where I have it in my garden. One area has a problem with erosion and so this plant is ideal for that. The other area is one that I just have to control it by digging every year.
What is beautiful about the plant are the orchid like flowers and the many types of butterflies it attracts. It’s also a bee magnet, so if you have kids you may want to put in in an area which is away from foot traffic.
Now is a great time to visit the Butterfly House in Faust Park. I was there yesterday and there are hundreds of Blue Morpho butterflies flying around. They call it Morpho Madness. This is spring break for a lot of kids, so be aware that you won’t find much peace and solitude.
One plant that I rarely see in a “formal” garden is Partridge Pea. It’s scientific name is Chamaecrista fasciculata. Even the Missouri Botanical Garden doesn’t seem to grow this plant, which is a shame.
In St. Louis, the Cloudless Sulphur seems to favor this native host plant. Other butterflies like the orange sulphur and the sleepy orange may also use it as a host plant.
The variety I uses grows to about four feet tall since it’s in competition with some other aggressive growers like verbena bonareinsis. It’s an annual which will easily re-seed itself every year so make sure you put it in a location that can take all the new seedlings. In mid-August it’s an appreciated splash of yellow color when it’s in between the early blooming flowers and the fall bloomers.
I’ve got it in a sunny location and it does well there.
I recently counted twenty-two eggs in one section of the garden. They start out white and then turn yellow.
Below is a picture of a Cloudless Sulphur nectaring on Salvia- Lady in Red – one of their favorites.