Tags Posts tagged with "Butterfly"


Photo by Tom Caruso


Tom Caruso of Smithtown visited the David Weld Nature Sanctuary in Nissequogue over Labor Day weekend and noticed several butterflies and bees clustering on thistles in the meadow. He snapped this beautiful photo showing two different butterflies and a small wasp (in center) all sharing one flower. He writes, ‘Nice way to bring summer to an end.’

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Gerard Romano of Port Jefferson Station snapped this beautiful photo on Aug. 3. He writes, ‘The last few weeks I have seen many butterflies, and today there was a large monarch pollinating the blossoms at Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson. I set the camera’s shutter to 6 frames a second and attempted to capture the monarch in full flight and managed to get this close.’

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A butterfly bush. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Butterfly bush vs. butterfly weed — what’s the difference? Is one better than the other? Is one invasive? How exactly do these plants support butterflies? These are all interesting questions.

As you plan your garden for next year, you may want to consider plants that attract butterflies. When you see names like butterfly bush and butterfly weed, they seem like the logical choices. But, that’s not necessarily the case. Besides, there are many other plants that also attract butterflies. By the way, butterflies do not eat; they only drink fluids. That means they drink water and the nectar of flowers. It’s the larvae that eat the leaves.

Let’s start with the butterfly bushBuddleja davidii (also spelled Buddleia). This is a woody deciduous shrub with lilac-colored flowers, but there are some cultivars with dark purple, white and pink flowers. And, yes, there’s even a yellow cultivar — B. davidii ‘Honeycomb.’ The butterfly bush blooms in late July and August with flowers that resemble lilac flowers, which is why it is sometimes called the summer lilac.

Interestingly, there are now reblooming true lilacs that produce flowers not only in spring but in August as well, so you will see both blooming in mid to late summer. A native of Asia, the butterfly bush is viewed by some as invasive in this area, but it is not on Suffolk County’s Do Not Sell List. It can grow to five feet tall and spread easily as wide, but there are dwarf varieties. It does best, producing the most flowers, in full sun.

The nectar of the flowers is a source of nutrition for butterflies, hence its name. Removing the dead flowers helps to encourage the development of more flowers and more butterflies. The plant is hardy in U.S. Dept. of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 to 9.

Now on to the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). This is a herbaceous perennial with bright orange flowers, although cultivars include ‘Ice Ballet,’ which has white flowers, and ‘Cinderella,’ which is a rose color.

A species of milkweed, the butterfly weed is a native of eastern North America. It blooms from summer to early fall.  Yes, it attracts butterflies who drink its nectar, but more than that, butterfly weed also serves as food for the larvae of the monarch butterfly. Because it supports both stages of the butterfly’s life, it really helps the environment, especially at a time when the monarch butterfly numbers have been dwindling, due in part to a smaller natural environment. It requires full sun and prefers a dry, sandy soil. So it will easily grow in Long Island’s soil.

If you see butterfly weed growing wild, don’t cut the flowers. Let them go to seed so that they can reseed and propagate this native plant.

There are many other plants that will attract butterflies to the garden including asters, coneflowers, lilac, mint, pansies, sage, phlox, lupine, lavender, day lily and hollyhock. The ones, like the butterfly weed, that support more than one stage in the butterfly’s life cycle, really help.

There are two butterfly exhibits in Suffolk County. The Sweetbriar Nature Preserve in Smithtown has a butterfly exhibit in the warm weather. Call 631-979-6344 for further information. Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead has a year-round indoor exhibit. Call 631-208-9200. Heritage Park in Mount Sinai has a butterfly garden. Call 631-509-0882 for more information.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions and/or comments to [email protected]. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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The parsley worm caterpillar. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are many gardening chores to accomplish in the fall. One that I’m currently working on is bringing in some herb plants to try and keep them growing over winter. Mainly, I want to keep some of my mints growing, but the parsley plant is lush and gorgeous, so I’m going to make a stab at keeping that growing on a bay window. When I went to take a look at the plant, I saw an absolutely beautiful caterpillar on one of the stalks. I knew it wasn’t a monarch, because they go for milkweed (several dined on my butterfly weed, Aesclepias tuberosa, a native variety of milkweed), and besides they have orange strips while my new guest was basically green and black.

Parsley worm caterpillar

A bit of research told me that it was a parsley worm caterpillar, which would eventually change into an American swallowtail butterfly, black with blue markings. How was I going to deal with this critter since I really wanted to see it turn into a butterfly, but I also wanted to bring the parsley into the house so I’d have fresh parsley all winter.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Stock photo
Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Stock photo

Again, research told me that they overwinter in the garden as a chrysalis (that is, a pupa) and emerge from the cocoon  in spring (April to May usually) as the beautiful butterfly. So, if you are bringing any plants into the house, check them for hitchhikers. Break off some of the parsley and set it with the caterpillar in a safe place outside to overwinter. I’ve read that it’s a nasty tasting caterpillar so birds tend to leave it alone.

Some people object to the parsley worm (which is attracted to other plants in the carrot family, such as dill, carrots and Queen Anne’s lace). They can be hand picked off the plants if you want. Personally, I don’t mind sharing a bit of my parsley with them knowing that they will turn into beautiful butterflies.

Green tomato hornworm

Another caterpillar you may find on your garden plants is the large green tomato hornworm. I remember as a kid my father finding them on some tomato plants he was growing. One was covered with white insect eggs, parasitized by braconid wasps. My father removed the caterpillar with the eggs, but I later learned that the wasps perform a valuable service to the home gardener, that of devouring other insect pests. 

Like the parsley worm caterpillar, they can be easily removed from the plant by hand picking. While the parsley worm will eventually yield a beautiful butterfly, the tomato hornworm can quickly defoliate tomato plants (and other nightshade plants like potatoes, peppers and eggplants) causing serious damage to the garden.

After going through the pupa stage, a large moth will emerge. No, I’m not willing to share my tomato plants with these critters. But, if you find one covered in white eggs, leave it alone since the wasps that will emerge from the eggs will kill the caterpillar and control other insect pests.

So, monarch butterfly caterpillars are good, parsley worm caterpillars are also very good and tomato worm caterpillars are bad, unless they’re covered in wasp eggs.

There are many other varieties of caterpillars that are sometimes beneficial and sometimes not. Remember the gypsy moth caterpillar can be very bad. (See my column of last July 16 for details on this one.)

Check out any caterpillars you find by typing the description into your computer’s search engine to find similar photos to help identify it. Only when you know what you have, should you decide what to do about the critter or critters in your garden.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected]. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.