Want More Butterflies?

Want More Butterflies?

There’s now an easy way to learn which of our native trees and shrubs host the greatest variety of butterfly and moth caterpillars—important because even seed-eating birds feed caterpillars to their young:

University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, in a dazzling presentation on landscaping from a chickadee’s perspective at this month’s Central Shenandoah Native Plant Symposium, mentioned the Native Plant Finder now in beta on the National Wildlife Federation’s website: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/. The feature’s content is based on Tallamy’s research. Enter your zip code and it will show your area’s trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses in order of those most valuable to breeding butterflies and moths. Select butterflies and it will show the butterflies and moths in order of those most choosy, i.e., a butterfly for which there is only one host plant will be at the top of the list. 

We were pleased to note that, of the 24 trees or shrubs that host 100 or more butterfly or moth species, The Quarry Gardens is home to 23. Oak species are the #1 favorites, hosting 513, followed by the cherry family with 390, the birches at 321, and willows at 316. 

This ragged Post oak leaf offers evidence of its usefulness to some insect.

Of the 20 flowers and grasses that nourish 20 or more butterfly or moth caterpillars, QGs are home to 16. Topping the list are Goldenrods and Asters, each preferred by more than 100 species, followed by Strawberries and Sunflowers.

The large Polyphemus moth (6″ wingspan), uses 37 plants as hosts for caterpillars including the top five trees and Sassafras, which hosts 34 other species.

Also, QGs is inviting some of the pickiest butterflies. The Gulf Fritillary, which chooses only one species for egg-laying, should like our Passionflowers. (The purple-flowering one grows on the railing of the platform overlooking the quarry pools, and the yellow-flowering one grows in the woods next to the Visitor Center.) 

Another single-species specialist is the Zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, our only native kite swallowtail, here nectaring on Butterfly weed. 

We have plenty of Violets for the Great spangled fritillary, Red cedars for the Juniper hairstreak, and Paw paws for the Zebra swallowtail—all of which love only one species. (Curiously, the Spicebush swallowtail enjoys four other plants in addition to its namesake: Sassafras, Redbud, Magnolia, and Tulip poplar.)

The site also offers a feature for making a personal list of host plants. Have fun!