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Shown on the right is a monarch butterfly collecting nectar from Butterfly Weed. This photo serves as the cover page for The Butterflies of Galveston County booklet written by Galveston County Master Gardeners.Photo Credit: GCMGA (Galveston County Master Gardener Association)
Plant It And They Will Come: Getting the Butterflies of Galveston County to Grace Your Yard
by Alectis "Cooky" Berg, Galveston County Master Gardener, who works as a volunteer with Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture
Galveston County is home to 83 of the world’s most beautiful butterfly species from all six of the great butterfly families – from the famous Monarchs to the magnificent swallowtails to the delicate Whites, Sulphurs, and Painted Ladies. They flutter beautifully in our pastures, wetlands, woodlands, our coasts – and in our yards.
While the recent building boom in our county has disturbed some butterfly habitats, our yards can become suburban oases for these beautiful creatures. To help maintain our special butterfly populations, residents can add a plant or two to an existing landscape, create a small butterfly garden in some sunny barren back corner of a back yard, or turn an entire house lot into a butterfly paradise–with low-maintenance trees, bushes, perennial plants, and annuals.
It’s not hard to attract the most magnificent of our soul-inspiring butterflies: Plant it and they will come.
There are a few basics to butterfly gardening. First, butterflies are insects, so insecticides that kill other insects will kill butterflies. Gardeners must be very careful to not overuse insecticides in their yards. One exception is fire ant bait granules: fire ants are a threat to butterflies as they are to people, and bait granules will not be consumed by the butterfly.
Next, one must know that the butterfly has four life stage transformations–the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis/cocoon, and the mature butterfly. A female butterfly will lay eggs in a great "host" plant so that when the eggs hatch into little caterpillars, they’ll have something great to eat. Gardeners are apt to kill all caterpillars, but it’s a terrible mistake: The Butterflies of Galveston County booklet includes a picture page of what caterpillars NOT to kill.
Host plants differ from species to species. For instance, our magnificent Gulf Fritillary butterfly will love munching on our passion flower vines, whereas the whites and sulphur-yellows prefer to browse through our pasture grasses and field flowers. The caterpillars do chomp away at these plants, but despite the apparent temporary "damage" to the leaves, let’s remember that the host plants have evolved with the butterflies and revive after feeding these creatures.
When it’s eaten enough, the caterpillar will wrap a cocoon around itself – called a "chrysalis" -- and go through a huge metamorphosis, emerging as a full-fledged winged beauty. Butterflies can fly, but they can no longer chomp. Instead, they have a large straw-like tongue through which they sip nectar as they flutter from blossom to blossom.
Plants that say "come and get it" to butterflies and hummingbirds, are available at the Galveston County Master Gardener Ornamental and Perennial Seminar and Plant Sale to be conducted at the Wayne Johnson Community Center in Carbide Park at 4102 FM 519 in La Marque from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 10.
Heidi Sheesley of TreeSearch Farms Nursery will present a slide seminar entitled "Timeless Treasures & Dazzling Discoveries." at 8:00 a.m. She will discuss proven perennials for this area and guidelines for growing them.
Plants featured at the sale that butterflies and hummingbirds adore include:
- MEXICAN LOBELIA. A spring bloomer which produces red-orange, tubular flowers in the spring, which will grow in full sun to light shade.
- ‘SUNRISE’ TECOMA. This produces large clusters of spectacular trumpet-shaped orange-yellow flowers with a burnished exterior from spring to fall. It is a drought-tolerant large perennial shrub that grows from 4’-8’ tall and loves full sun.
- MICKEY MOUSE TARO. This Taro is a stunning variegated ornamental with large, speckled green-cream-white leaves. The leaves range in shape from perfect hearts to fascinating sculptured fantasies. Butterflies & hummingbirds often perch on the tip of the leaf for a drink of water. It's a beautiful cold-hardy accent plant for shade and water gardens.
- ERANTHEMUM. Electric blue flowers are arranged in dense spikes on tall, erect stems amidst tropical-looking foliage. These bloom fall through spring, sun to light shade, in yards or containers.
- FLOWERING VERBENA. This becomes a small, single or multi-trunk "tree" with delicate-looking foliage and a constant show of 6"– 8" spikes of feathery white flowers. It’s known for its heavenly honey-vanilla scent that continuously wafts across the garden.
- TEA BUSH. A member of the chocolate family, this low-growing bush is covered with beautiful, bright pink flowers that bloom non-stop spring through fall. It is drought tolerant, grows quickly and will provide color during summer heat. Butterflies adore its special nectar.
Dozens of Master Gardeners will be on hand to help advise you on plant selection and location, and landscaping tips. Proceeds from the sale of the plants are used to develop and maintain the Horticulture Demonstration Garden located at the Galveston County Extension Office which the public is invited to enjoy and learn from year-round.
For more information, contact the Galveston County Extension Office at 281 534 3413, ext. 6 or visit our website address below for map directions.
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