Fritillaries and Violets

Fritillary butterflies are common in Kentucky. I enjoy seeing them in our backyard and want to encourage them. This is an image of a Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) feeding on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) last summer.

Speyeria cybele butterfly

Adult fritillaries feed on a wide variety of flowers. However, caterpillars are dependent on violets as a major food source (host plant). In fact, Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars only eat violet leaves, and without violets we wouldn’t have these butterflies.

Common blue violets (Viola papilionacea) are indeed common, growing in woods, meadows, roadsides, and lawns. Because they are so abundant it’s easy to overlook their scalloped heart-shaped leaves and attractive bright purple blossoms. The flowers are even edible.

Viola papilionacea

One drawback to violets is that they can spread, and my husband won’t be happy if they get in the lawn. I’ve planted a small patch and hope to keep them contained. I’m curious to see if fritillaries find them and I’ll be watching for caterpillars.

Blueberries in bloom

The blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are in full bloom. It’s been fun to watch small insects visit the attractive bell-shaped flowers.

vaccinium spp.

I assume the insects are interested in nectar and pollen, and in return are pollinating the blooms so that by June there will be blueberries.

vaccinium spp.

I enjoy eating a few of the berries, but I’m happy to let the birds have most of them. I also enjoy the rich, colorful foliage in the late fall, as in this mid-November photo.

vaccinium foliage

Blueberries are also host plants (caterpillar food) for two common Kentucky butterflies, the spring azure (Celestrina ladon) and Henry’s elfin (Callophrys henrici) as well as several small moths.

These shrubs are hardy and can grow in full sun or shade, but will have more blooms and berries with some sun. They can be pruned to any desired height, and can even be used as a hedge. Blueberries prefer acid soil and I try to remember to add some Miracid or Holly-tone in the spring and fall.

I enjoy my blueberry bushes spring, summer, and fall and heartily recommend them for landscaping.

PS Thanks to my webmaster, Brian Hall, I’m trying out a new blog format. I’d be glad for any feedback.

Non-native Tulips

There’s a lot happening in the backyard these days. However, it’s the redbud and tulips that are attracting attention. I’m taking a fair amount of ribbing from friends about my non-native tulips. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying them immensely. They were planted, at my request, by my good friend and landscaper, Beate Popkins.

Redbud (cercis canadensis) and tulips

Carolyn Summers’ recent book, Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East, is an excellent resource and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in landscaping with native plants. I like her idea that “the ultimate landscape goal is a stunningly beautiful garden with an abundance of native plants along with occasional non-natives that have sentimental or historical value to the gardener.” I focus on native plants because they are attractive, hearty, and provide important food for wildlife including birds, butterflies, and other insects. I’m also glad to include some non-natives. These tulips and native creeping phlox seem quite happy together.

creeping phlox (Phlox sublata)

Some non-natives are invasive to the point of crowding out native plants. Summers suggests a good motto for responsible gardeners is “What grows in my garden stays in my garden.” My tulips will not stray and I enjoy their bright colors and graceful form.