Butterflies

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Comma butterflies (July 2020)

Butterfly belong to the lepidoptera family, are day flying and have ‘clubs’ at the end of their antennae.

There are around 60 native butterfly in Britain, and more than 2,500 species of moths.

An interesting fact about butterfly is that the adults – the ones you see fluttering and flying around – do not need food as adults, but do need energy to move about during their short time flying (about 4 weeks), during which time the females lay eggs.   Flying adult butterflies get their energy from nectar.

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Jersey Tiger Moth (18 July 2020)

Another neat fact is that they have taste receptors in their feet, which help them sense sugary liquids in nectars and thus identify food sources.

The Natural History Museum (London) recommends the following as butterfly friendly-plants: buddleia; lavender; lilac; common honeysuckle; nettles; and grasses.

It’s important to leave a few patches of stinging nettle in the wilder part of a garden, as it’s an essential food plant for developing butterflies.  The larvae of Britain’s best known butterfly, the small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), feeds on nettles.  Another consideration is to include a variety of flower formations – bell shaped flowers, open faced such as daisies, funnel shaped flowers, etc.

Indeed, encouraging butterflies into your growing space is “a plant management exercise.  If you get the plants right, the butterflies will just appear and succeed, and this applies as much in the garden as it does in the glasshouse,” according to John Calvert, farm director of the Stratford Butterfly Farm (RHS The Garden, Dec 2012, p.43)  This is because many butterfly types are associated with a single or small variety of plants on which they completely rely for food, nectar, and breeding.

The Stratford Butterfly Farm’s Top Ten Butterfly-Friendly Plants: 1) sedum spectabile; 2) succisa pratensis (devil’s bit scabious) ; 3) eupatorium cannabinum (hemp agrimony); 4) oraganum vulgare (wild marjoram); 5) centranthus ruber (red valerian); 6) hebe ‘Great Orme’; 7) hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’; 8) verbena bonariensis; 9) phuopsis stylosa; 10) buddleja davidii ‘Autumn Beauty’ (RHS The Garden Dec 2012, p43-46).

 

PLANTS FOR BUTTERFLIES 

  • Cosmos are an important source of nectar for butterflies.
  • Ivy is the food-plant of holly blue butterfly caterpillars and many moth species – including swallowtail moth.
  • Nettle and blackberry are also important plants which support butterfly throughout their life cycle, of which there is plenty in the woods.

 

Spring flowers:

    • Bugle (Ajuga reptans) – a ground-cover woodland perennial, with low spikes of purple flower
    • ErysimumBowles mauve’ – a perennial wallflower with mauve flowers
    • Lady’s-smock (Cardamine pratensis) – a delightful, slender plant with pink flowers for moist soils
    • Goat willow (Salix caprea) – a shrubby tree, which can grow to 15 m tall, so it needs space and shouldn’t be planted near houses because of its vigorous root

Summer plants: 

    • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – a lovely perennial for the flower border, with large flowers with a central spiky cone surrounded by pink petals
    • English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – short-lived subshrub that likes poor, dry soil
    • Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) – a British native perennial, sending up lots of metre tall leafy stems topped with fluffy pink flowerheads
    • Marjoram (Oreganum vulgare) – a British native of downs and grassland, about 30cm tall with lots of small pink flowers
    • Verbena bonariensis – a trendy plant that is so dainty its tall stems topped with purple flowers can be slotted in among your existing border plants.

Autumn flowers:

    • Bugbane (Actaea simplex ) – A tall, upright spike with white flowers along it
    • Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) – a native wet meadow & downland flower with little lilac pompom flowers
    • Iceplant (Sedum spectabile) – fleshy leaves and pink flat heads of flowers
    • Ivy (Hedera helix) –  allow it to get its head into the sun in order to flower
    • Michaelmas daisy (Aster novae-angliae) – a perennial for the flower border with familiar pink and purple daisy-flowers.
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Comma butterfly — Saturday 30 March 2019.

Sighting Diary

  • Sat 18 July 2020 – spotted a Red Admiral, as well as a Jersey Tiger moth.
  • Wed 6 May 2020 – spotted a Brimstone butterfly on the jasmine
  • Wed 8 April 2020 – spotted & identified a male Orange Tip butterfly
  • Wed 25 March 2020 – saw a Peacock butterfly, feeding on dandelion flowers.
  • Sat 30 March 2019 on the allotment, we saw a Comma Butterfly (aka anglewing butterfly) – with orange/ brown wing markings – very friendly! We also saw a white cabbage butterfly & a creamy yellow butterfly.
  • Sun 24 March 2019 – saw a yellow butterfly at the allotment.
  • Sat 23 March 2019 – saw an orange butterfly with brown/black markings in the back patch.