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Butterfly Field Trip

October was an amazing month for butterflies! Whether it was the hordes of Snout Nose butterflies we tried in vain to avoid greeting with our windshields, or the masses of Queens visiting before the Monarchs flew in, there really wasn’t a day that didn’t provide some type of butterfly sighting. I said goodbye to the peak butterfly migration month this past Monday when I took a little butterfly appreciation field trip. It seemed fitting to spend the last day of the month in celebration of these tireless beauties. Laura Jarvis had been offering to show me her butterfly haven at her home for some time and I finally took her up on it. Now I  wonder why it took me so long! Laura is an avid butterfly lover. Butterflies are her passion in the true sense of the word. There is not a conversation about butterflies that she doesn’t want to take part in. She revels in every stage of the life cycle of these winged creatures. She has an unquenchable desire for knowledge about butterflies and loves nothing more than to share what she learns with others. I think she might even draw her breaths from air that gets stirred as their wings fluttering by. Have I mentioned that Laura loves butterflies? I’ve known this about Laura, and I love this about her, but to see her in her element made me see her in a whole new light.

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(A Long-Tailed Skipper that’s been visiting Laura lately.)

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(Butterfly-attracting Duranta)

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(Monarch butterfly tagged by Laura.)

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(Gulf Frittilary just hanging out.)

As I pulled up to Laura’s house, I was greeted by her ear-to-ear grin and a greeting of “Good morning, I’m spreading poop!” She was happily feeding her plants nutrients with organic composted material. There is not one chemical used in Laura’s yard. “No way”, she says, “I have to make sure all of my babies are safe”. These babies that she speaks of are usually butterfly caterpillars, but she uses the term interchangeably throughout all the stages of the butterfly’s development. As far as pest control, Laura believes wholeheartedly in letting nature run its course. No pesticides, no fungicides, no chemical fertilizer of any sort will be found around her yard. As a matter of fact, while some folks spend their time fighting off caterpillars by plucking them off their plants or spraying them with pesticides, Laura spends her time propagating plants that will attract the little munchers. Dill, fennel, parsely, pipevine, milkweed, these are just a small example of the many plants she has scattered and tucked away in her yard to draw in caterpillars.

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(Pipevine Swallowtail have no fear laying their eggs in this 100% organic yard!)

She took me through the gate leading to her backyard butterfly oasis and I felt like I had entered into a new realm. Butterflies flitted from one plant to the next in search of nectar or the perfect spot to lay their eggs. The fences were laden with blooms from hyacinth bean vines, and passion vine. The pathways were edged with zinnia, lantana, blue mist, salvias, pipevine, and more. Large Sennas  (Candlestick plants) rose up in the backdrops along with unique specimens such as the Popcorn plant (it smells like popcorn when you brush the leaves) and a Blue Pea vine (which Laura recently found out was a host to the Longtailed Skipper she’s been seeing in her yard). But what stood out the most to me was the two giant duranta that rose majestically to heights over eight feet tall. They positively dripped with clusters of vibrant, purple blooms and they were teeming with life every which way you looked. The butterflies were going insane over these duranta, and Laura states that she has never seen another plant that draws the butterflies in as much as this one.

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(The first Duranta I was greeted with. There are butterflies nestled all in there!)

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(The monster Duranta. It was here I got a little dizzy when the swarms of butterflies came. I loved it!)

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(Senna or Cassia – Candlestick plant, Popcorn plant, with pipevine tucked in everywhere provide an alluring feast!)

The day was a mix of clouds and sun and it was so interesting to watch how when the clouds hovered over, butterfly activity slowed (but by all means didn’t stop). As soon as the sun would start shining again, the butterflies would appear and increase in numbers by the seconds. It almost made you feel a little dizzy watching them because there was such an astounding amount of them (check out the video that was posted yesterday on our Facebook page). Laura attributes the amount of butterflies in her yard to the pact that she and her husband Bill made a few years ago. ‘We decided that we would not bring another plant into our home that wasn’t a butterfly host or nectar plant. We’ve stuck to our pact and you can see the results speak for themselves.” They’ve truly turned their backyard into a magical place. “There is absolutely no place I’d rather be”, says Laura, “I have everything I need to make me happy right here at home”. I had to agree, as I found it hard to pull myself away from this wonderland.

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(The Blue Pea Vine we found out was a host to the Long-Tailed Skipper.)

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(Laura and her Popcorn plant that attracts butterflies in the Sulpher family…and it really smells like popcorn!)

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(A whole side of the yard dedicated to perennial/annual nectar and host plants. Zinnia, lantana, salvia, you name it, she’s got it.)

With all of this talk about butterflies, I’d be remiss to not mention the caterpillars throughout her backyard. As fun as it was to have my head in the clouds marveling at the butterflies, it was just as fun and exciting to have Laura point the other direction and demand I pay attention to her “babies”. I didn’t have to look far. She had Monarch and Queen caterpillars munching away at milkweed, Pipevine Swallowtails devouring pipevine and Gulf Fritillaries chewing happily at passionvine. Everywhere we looked, these caterpillars were chomping their way through the plants she has provided for them. Laura even had a few caterpillars tucked into butterfly cages along with some food to sustain them. Here they will be protected while they eat til they get fat and happy and tuck themselves into a chrysalis. Then Laura enjoys releasing them when they emerge as butterflies ( tagging them if they are Monarchs for scientific research).

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(Monarch caterpillar making its way through the milkweed.)

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(Queen caterpillar is happy on milkweed too, notice the 3 sets of protuberances.)

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(These lucky “babies” are being fed and protected in the butterfly net.)

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(Fat and happy in their chrysalis. One caterpillar is getting ready to make one!)

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(Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars are voracious eaters!)

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(Laura moving a queen out of the grass and over to some food.)

The only problem that Laura has encountered when raising butterflies is that, “there is never enough food for them.” She states, “the more butterflies you bring in, the more they lay eggs, the more caterpillars you get, and the more they eat. It’s a cycle that you just can never catch up on.” She is constantly collecting seeds to start new plants or taking cuttings from plants to propagate in order to make extra food for her “babies”. Sometimes she even hides some of the food in a closed off area until it will be strong enough to be able to feed the caterpillars and still come back after being eaten to the ground. Besides her immense love for butterflies, the need to feed our pollinators is one of the reasons Laura does her best spread awareness to others about the importance of host and nectar plants.

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(Laura showing a class attendee how to spot Monarch eggs on milkweed.)

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(Laura introducing some caterpillars to a little one. Look at that expression!)

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(Monarch tagging from our Monarch Tag and Release seminar with Drake White.)

Laura offers classes at Rainbow Gardens to encourage butterfly gardening and she brings in guest speakers in to promote butterfly and other pollinator awareness every chance she gets. If you are interested in creating a butterfly garden, we will be having some butterfly classes when our seminar season resumes in spring. If you can’t wait to get started, contact Laura Jarvis at our Bandera store at 210-680-5734 or through her email at ljarvis.rainbowgardens@yahoo.com. She can take you on a tour of the butterfly garden at our Bandera location, help you pick out plants for your own garden, and offer you a wealth of knowledge about one of her, and our, favorite winged friends. Let Laura open up a whole new world of enchantment and wonder with her love of butterflies!

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-The Happy Gardener

-Lisa Mulroy

 

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