BY ANITA WESTERVELT
September’s rains provided a tremendous favor for our fall kaleidoscope of butterflies.
What’s rain got to do with it? It created a burst of blooms in our native plant communities. More blooms, more butterflies. The opposite is true in drought years. No rain, no blooms, butterflies go elsewhere to seek nectar in order to survive.
Just three or four plants will attract butterflies to your yard. Visit a local nursery or native plant grower and buy plants that are blooming now. Water them in well when planting and water every day for a week or so.
Oranges, yellows, reds and purples are colors blooming now. But plants aren’t created equal in the nectar department. A useful spreadsheet to download for Rio Grande Valley butterfly native nectar plants is at the following National American Butterfly Association link: https://naba.org/chapters/nabast/plants_info.pdf. Nectar categories are excellent, very good, good, and fair.
Two red-blooming plants in the very good category are scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) and Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii). Plant in full sun. These two plants will bloom through December attracting hummingbirds and multiple species of butterflies.
Turk’s cap also is happy in partial shade like around the base of a mesquite tree. Placed where you can quietly observe, you’ll maybe see a great kiskadee bird hop up and pluck a round white fruit from the plant.
In the excellent nectar category, consider orange and red-blooming Texas lantana (Lantana Urticoides) and purple-blooming fall mistflower, (Chromolaena odorata), also called crucita. Planted adjacent to one another gives your garden a dramatic color scheme. Crucita easily self-propagates, and transplants well, giving you plants to share with friends come spring.
Another beauty for your colorful garden palette is pink and yellow blooming West Indian lantana (Lantana camara). Experts believe it has been in the Valley at least 100 years and therefore, list it as a native. Velvet lantana (Lantans velutina) has white blooms and is a shapely shrub that will bloom well into the winter. All three lantanas listed are in the excellent category for butterfly nectar plants.
Another white-blooming shrub, heliotrope (heliotropium angiospermum) is an all-time favorite drawing a rabble of small butterflies. On a sunny day, heliotrope, also called scorpion’s tail, will be busy with white peacock butterflies as well as pretty little yellow sulphurs, duskywings, metalmarks, checkerspots and blues. Heliotrope blooms in all seasons. The shrub forms a nice shape, and has attractive dark green, textured leaves.
Although not native, if you have citrus trees in your yard, or nearby, you’re likely to see a flutter of some of the Valley’s largest butterflies, the big black and yellow giant swallowtail.
A native tree worth planting is the Wild Olive (Cordia boissieri). It blooms all year, is an excellent source of nectar, and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial pollinators. For a list of local native plant growers visit https://rgvctmn.org/rgv-plants/.
Last month, this column discussed collective nouns for birds and a couple of other groups. This article used several collective nouns for butterflies: kaleidoscope, rainbow, rabble and flutter.
Anita Westervelt is a Texas Master Naturalist.