Power Plants, #1

Power Plants, #1

I previously mentioned Douglas Tallamy's book, "

Bringing Nature Home

." This is one of my primary sources for this particular blog, but it is not alone.

I have also mentioned the fact that Butterfly Bush (


), while very effective as a nectar source, supports absolutely no butterflies of North America in the larval (caterpillar) stage. Butterfly bush is a rather large thing, so using that space for plants that can provide both nectar AND caterpillar food is good space management. The fewer host plants (the name we give "caterpillar food") available, the fewer butterflies.

So what can give you more bang for your buck when you want to watch adults feed on nectar plants and help them feed their progeny? One of my absolute favorites is


, which is enjoyed by both birds and butterflies. According to Tallamy, literally dozens of butterflies can use the


species (which includes black-eyed susans) as baby chow. Hundreds can use it as a nectar source. And after the flowers fade, goldfinches will pluck the seeds from the cone. In addition, coneflowers will spread readily, giving you lots more flowers in very little time.

Monarch butterflies, whose lazy flight pattern makes them easy to watch, require milkweeds, though they are not the only species to use the


as a nectar plant. Their are several varieties native to North America, and they grow well from seed. Milkweeds have long taproots, so transplanting can be an issue. But if you plant milkweed, you are guaranteed caterpillar sightings. The plants contain toxins that make the caterpillars poisonous to birds--so they don't have to hide. Just make sure you have plenty in the ground, because your milkweed crop will be decimated!

Two more smaller plants--

Joe Pye Weed



. Native Joe Pye is about six feet tall, so if you transplant some from a ditch, be prepared. There are some new versions on the market that stay about four feet, which may work better for a small garden. If you can find a spot for lots of violets, some butterflies will lay eggs on the dormant roots--giving you early spring butterfly adults later. For something larger, try

button bush


cephalanthus occidentalis

). This is a great shrub, especially if you have a soggy spot in the yard. The flowers are small pom-poms, and you could probably sell tickets to the fight that will break out over the blooms. This shrub you will have to hunt down--search for nurseries in your area that will hunt one down for you.

For high-impact trees, nothing in America beats an


. While the blooms may not be all that attractive to us, oak trees support more species than any other tree on the continent. If you have room for only one shade tree, make it an oak. If you live far enough south, a mentor of mine used to describe the

live oak

as "an ecosystem unto itself." Another personal favorite, probably dating back to childhood in Wisconsin, is the


. Note to parents: kids like crawling on this one, if it is allowed low branches. Yes, they can be a little messy. Plant it away from the driveway, and watch which different butterflies like the rotting fruit!

So there is our first list: coneflower, milkweed, joe pye weed, violets, button bush, crabapple and oak. Surely there is space somewhere in your yard to add a couple of these-- if you haven't already. Let me know what you've had success with in your neck of the woods!

Thanks for reading--                                                    [photo-fritillary caterpillar on violet]

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