Sunday, May 20, 2012

Feeding Frenzy on the Prairie!

Boy, was our butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) living up to its name today!  You could hardly see the blooms for the huge number of butterflies feeding on them.  These butterflies are pearl crescents, Phyciodes tharos.  The larvae eat the leaves of plants in the aster family and, in fact, I had a dilemma with similar caterpillars feasting on a couple young Echinacea plants several years ago.  By the time I figured out what the caterpillars were (and had decided to let them be), they had dispersed.  The Echinacea plants recovered without issue and bloomed beautifully just weeks later.  By the next year, with no treatment, the plants were huge and well established.

 Even though it looks like this blossom is filled to capacity already, another latecomer is still flying in to join the crowd.

If you look beyond the blooms of butterfly milkweed and the pearl crescents feeding as deeply as they can, you'll see the red foliage of the pink evening primrose.  The pink evening primrose was covered with blossoms a couple weeks ago and finished blooming about 10 days ago.  The leaves started turning red as the blooming ceased, and the color has increased almost daily.  I don't remember noticing this in years before, so I'm watching to see what happens.  It's not flowers, but it sure is colorful!

A last note....   If I had treated my yard with Bt, an organic product often used because it "doesn't hurt the environment and wildlife," I wouldn't have these butterflies.  Bt is a bacterium that produces a toxin which, when ingested, will kill butterfly & moth larvae (Lepidoptera), as well as flies & mosquitoes (Diptera), bees, wasps & ants (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), and nematodes.


~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

That is an amazing display of butterflies!!!!!
I had the caterpillars feast on my white coneflower one year too. I thought they were going to kill it. I was picking them off and putting them on the wild sunflowers because they were there too and I don't care if they eat the sunflower leaves. I love that you got a shot of one trying to find a place to feed.
My pink evening primrose foliage is also turning red. I've had it happen a bit before; but this year, it's really intense. It looks good to me. Don't know why exactly. I tend to cut back the primrose when it starts looking blah. This crimson show is keeping it in the garden longer.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, It was so much fun to watch those butterflies! And I'm glad you found an alternate host for your caterpillars. Good to know, too, about your red pink evening primrose; I've seen it turning red in a couple other places too.

Melanie said...

I noticed when I got home this afternoon, on a fly-by the garden, my milkweed is blooming now too. .it looks MUCH bigger than it has been. .and I am so glad it has survived and thrived!! I first saw it in a native garden in Indianapolis of all places and knew that someday I would HAVE to have some. .it was long before my avid gardening days!! I'm really pleased to have it!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I'm glad your butterfly milkweed is doing so well. It's such a pretty plant! There are several other milkweeds that I love, especially the tall ones like common, showy, purple, and swamp. They tend to suffer from "bare legs syndrome," but that can easily be disguised by growing them in a mixed border. Their blooms are incredibly fragrant and, like all milkweeds, they are monarch nurseries and butterflies magnets.