Thursday, February 5, 2015, Powell Gardens received a marvelous donation of the lifelong butterfly collection from the family of the late Richard Meier Minteer. It contains local butterflies as well as species from all over the world. It is truly a breathtaking gathering of some of the most beautiful species in every hue, and in patterns and color combinations that inspire. Each butterfly is labeled with its name and native origin. Why does Powell Gardens care about butterflies? Is a garden without butterflies a garden? We feel butterflies are a visceral component to a garden as an indicator of a healthy landscape, their presence adds to a garden’s beauty and enhances the experience.
Here’s a sample of one of the thirty Riker mounts of butterflies of Mr. Minteer. These butterflies are all Pierids which includes our local Sulphur butterflies and the pesky Cabbage White. The species above are all from southeast Asia from China to Indonesia.
This mount contains a pair of Monarchs (second row, bottom two) with a pair of Queens above them and their mimics the Viceroy (third row, top two). Viceroys around here look the top version which mimics the Monarch but if you are in Florida, Viceroys look like the darker bottom version which mimics the Queen, (there are far more Queens in Florida than Monarchs). The Press has done a good job to inform the public of the drastic population decline of our migrating population of Monarchs — numbers of overwintering Mexico were just released and were very low again.
What can you do to help the Monarch recover? The simple solution is that you must plant milkweeds which are the host plant for Monarch — it’s the only group of plants its caterpillars can eat. Grow Native! has produced the above set of “Monarch Cafe” plant labels to help you find these plants at your favorite nursery this spring. BUY and PLANT as many as you can!
There were six native milkweed species as part of the Monarch Cafe series and above are the other three species. No matter what type of sunny habitat you have in your garden, at least one species of these milkweeds will work for you. Swamp/Marsh Milkweed will thrive even where it’s wet. Got shade? There are other species from the Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) to Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) and Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) that will work for you — I’m sure those labels will be printed as soon as those shade-loving species become more widely available.
This panel of Mr. Minteer’s donation includes Brush-footed butterflies native to the Midwest and the two butterflies in the middle are a pair of Regal Fritillaries. Monarchs are getting all the press because they are so well-known but the Regal Fritillary is far more endangered than the Monarch. Regal Fritillaries are still a common sight in the Flint Hills of Kansas but their range once extended eastward all the way to the Atlantic Seaboard. Today there is only one population left in Pennsylvania and a few in Wisconsin and Illinois east of the Mississippi and that’s it. It has been observed just a few times at Powell Gardens and is still fairly common around prairies between Sedalia and Cole Camp in Missouri. The Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) is how Greater Kansas City’s butterfly club “The Idalia Society” got its name. What are we doing to save the Regal? At Powell Gardens we are restoring the native prairie remnants where the prairie violet, the Regal fritillary’s host plant grows.
Here are some of our local swallowtail butterflies, the three in the middle column and the bottom one of the left column are all Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. The two butterflies in the left column are Pipevine Swallowtails also found locally — Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars feed only on plants in Birthwort family, which includes native Woolly Pipevine (Isotrema formerly Aristolochia tomentosa) and the Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)– and they sequester poisons from those plants so that they are toxic to would be predators. Some female tiger swallowtails (that black form in the lower left) mimic them for protection as birds can’t tell them apart! The top center Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in this collection is actually the largest form of the species found only in Florida and considered the largest butterfly in North America.
This panel of Pierid butterflies are all from North America, many of them found locally. It includes a record of a butterfly that is also now rare or extirpated to our area — the little white butterfly in the fifth column, fourth one down is a Olympia Marble that was collected in Lenexa in May of 1963. I have never seen that butterfly in Greater Kansas City. I also like the top butterfly of the fourth column which is a male California Dogface, the state butterfly of California — can you see the dog face in it? If you are interested in learning more about butterflies plan to visit Powell Gardens during the Out of the Blue, A Spring Butterfly Exhibit at Powell Gardens (March 7 – 31, 2015) where we will display the entire Richard Minteer butterfly collection. You must experience it first hand to see all the iridescent colors the camera cannot pick up! On March 21st and 22nd members of the local Idalia Society butterfly club will be on hand as well to answer any question you may have about local butterflies and what you can do as gardeners to help them out. I hope to see you here next month!