When the cool nights and shorter days of late summer arrive, priorities shift dramatically to subjects like white-tailed deer and preparation for winter. Aside from the occasional Monarch flitting about in fields of asters and goldenrods, butterfly photography is an afterthought.
A recent field trip and opportunity to observe butterflies in a cultivated landscape reminded me that there’s still a lot going on in butterfly world! And, most important, a landscape with continuous bloom into late summer can attract and nourish a wide variety of insects at a critical time. The host plants in this post are Sedum (‘Autumn Joy’) and Butterfly Bush.
Tiger Swallowtail on Sedum (1 of 2)
Red-spotted Purple on Sedum (the red spots are on the underside of the wing)
Several years ago I discovered a group of milkweed plants growing at the edge of the property. They were in the shade of a 60-foot-tall Norway spruce and lacked the vigor and floral production of open-grown plants. Mindful of the decline of Monarch butterflies and their habitats, I transplanted about 15 plants to better sites in full sun. This was done in the spring of 2015 and 2016.
Most plants survived the stress of transplanting but they didn’t become fully acclimated and established until this year. I’m now pleasantly surprised with the results, and plan to continue the project. The new colonies are producing root sprouts as well as flowers, and the response of nectaring insects was immediate.
Here is a small sample of milkweed visitors last week – and several plants have not reached full bloom yet! This is a wildlife manager’s dream scenario: one action, with multiple benefits.
Banded Hairstreak butterfly (milkweed flowers are a preferred food source)
Virginia Ctenucha moth
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Given the insect activity, I wasn’t surprised to find a common 8-legged predator lurking in the flower clusters: the Flower Crab Spider (I had to gently lift the flower cluster and shoot one-handed to get the image).