Giving the caterpillar its wings at Thuya Garden
Many summer visitors come to Thuya garden in hopes of seeing butterflies, and an increasing number of people want to see them in their juvenile state, as caterpillars. This year at Thuya, we expanded our butterfly garden using plants that provide nourishment for caterpillars. The garden was designed to attract several butterflies that have been recorded visiting the garden in the past, including the American Lady butterfly.
We have plenty of nectar flowers for butterflies when they are adults, but butterflies will look for more in a plant than just their next meal. They look for specific plants to lay their eggs on, a plant that will supply the caterpillars with enough food to get them to adulthood. These are called larval host plants. When selecting our host plants, we chose a variety of violets (Viola), everlastings and pussytoes (Anaphalis, Antennaria), and asters (Symphyotrichum, Doellingeria), along with some plants in the pea family (Fabacaea). It was not long after we completed the planting phase of the garden, that we noticed some very tiny American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) caterpillars on the everlastings.
The American Lady butterfly is common in North America, it is a resident in the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America. In the spring it migrates northward where it will colonize for the summer. It lays its eggs on everlastings, pussytoes, wormwoods (Artemisia), ironweeds (Vernonia), and cudweeds (Gnaphalium). The caterpillars use the leaves and make silk to weave a nest where they will feed for two to four weeks until they turn into a chrysalis, in which they will remain for a week or two. After they have completed their metamorphosis, they will emerge as a butterfly and live for six to 20 days. During that time, they feed on flower nectar from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), dogbane (Apocynum), asters (Symphyotrichum, Doellingeria), goldenrod (Solidago), and a variety of annuals such as marigold (Tagetes), zinnia (Zinnia), and verbena (Verbena).
Next time you visit Thuya, keep an eye out for these butterflies and their caterpillars. You may get inspired to start your own butterfly garden!
Margaret Handville, Woodland Gardener - Thuya Garden