One of the great things about native plants is their ability to interact with and support native insects. This year's focus on butterflies at the nursery has one goal and three ways to reach it. The goal is to help gardeners of all ages indulge their curiosity about plant-insect interactions. Three things we are doing at the nursery to reach this goal are:
Of course, butterflies are not the only insects that interact with native plants, so more to follow...
Below are two PDF downloads that outline the species of butterflies that can be found in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as well as the host plant species that the butterfly larva feed on. If you don't live in Lancaster County, these lists can still be helpful for gardeners in surrounding areas.
From the Article Archive
26 January 2021
Yes, you read that correctly--there are butterflies in your backyard in the middle of winter. To be clear, these butterflies aren’t flying around or nectaring on flowers, which makes them pretty darn tough to count, so the title is only meant to sensationalize. The point is that most Lepidopteran species are indeed spending the winter in your garden. In fact, of the ninety-some species of butterflies that are found here in Lancaster County, PA, seventy-two of them do not migrate south. They are spending the winter as eggs, larvae, pupae or adults.
A few species of Hairstreaks overwinter as eggs attached to twigs of the host plant or in leaf litter. However, the majority of Lepidoptera overwinter as larva or pupa. Larva are essentially the “caterpillar stage” of the butterfly or moth. While entomologists don’t know exactly how all larvae spend the winter, they do know that some species can use the silk-strands they produce to wrap themselves in leaves. Some will winter in the hollow stems of perennials. Others simply hide out in clumps of grasses or at the base of host plants. The pupal stage is the metamorphic stage between larva and adult when the caterpillar forms a cocoon or chrysalis. The cocoon might be attached to a twig or in the ground under leaf litter. Finally, Comma and Question mark butterflies overwinter as adults tucked into the bark of trees. The body-chemistry changes that butterflies go through to avoid freezing to death are complex and continue to present researchers with new data.
Now about that wintertime counting—unless you research butterflies professionally, it is probably not going to happen. What you can assess is how much leaf litter is in your garden, or how many standing perennial stems and uncut grasses you have. More wintertime plant material = more butterflies = a win for biodiversity.