Happiness is being in a pollinator garden.

An Anna's hummingbird feeding on and blending in with Brazilian salvia.

If you stand still in a garden of zinnias and other flowers frequented by hummingbirds, moths, butterflies and bees, it can be a joyful learning experience.  Years ago, I became acquainted with the Gulf Fritillary (Agaulis vanilla) butterfly after growing some passion vines to provide shade to the deck on my wife’s studio. I didn’t know it at the time but Gulf fritillary lays its eggs mostly on passion vines.

Fritillary adult and caterpillar on a passion vine that is their food source as larvae.

Another Master Gardener wanted some of my passion vine to feed some caterpillars of the butterfly and so when she came to collect it, I noticed for the first time the caterpillars and one adult Gulf Fritillary butterfly. It was a very serendipitous experience.  I have been a fan of these butterflies ever since. At my new home, the gardener next door has a passion vine which has provided Gulf Fritillary butterflies galore for me to enjoy in my garden. I counted eight of these butterflies at one time flitting about.

Butterflies may not be as efficient as bees in pollinating plants and crops, but butterflies certainly do their fair share in bringing about seed and fruit production. They are definitely pleasing to watch. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers, but they lay their eggs on a limited number of native plants because butterfly caterpillars are host specific.

The butterfly has a 4-stage life cycle egg, caterpillar (larvae), pupa and adult. After mating, females typically deposit their eggs on the undersides of leaves, especially those that act as a food source for newly emerging caterpillars. Butterflies taste with their feet, which is where their taste sensors are located. Hence by standing on their offspring’s food, they can taste it to determine if this is the right plant for their caterpillar offspring.  For a great resource on creating a pollinator garden and a list of plants used by pollinators see: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8498.pdf. Caterpillars also are harvested by birds to feed their nestlings, so they are an important part of our landscape ecosystem.

Years ago, at a Master Gardener Conference, I heard a lecture by Doug Tallamy who is a noted entomology professor at my alma mater, the University of Delaware. He pointed out that we have decreased native plants by planting lots of exotic ones that native insects have not co-evolved with, hence discouraging our native fauna. He is author of the book “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Garden” which won a silver medal from the Garden Writer’s Association in 2008.

Tallamy restored 10 acres of a previously mowed hayfield which had been farmed for centuries to a native forest and meadow and was pleased that so many native species returned.  Standing under one of his young oak trees, he observed 11 caterpillars belonging to six species; a notable increase in biodiversity. His book is based not only on ecological theory and expertise, but also on practical considerations for creating a more diverse landscape, although mostly with East Coast gardener’s in mind.

We can all improve our gardens and enjoy more pollinators as they go from flower to flower. Every day, I enjoy carpenter bees, honey bees and small bees I don’t know the names of in my garden. I enjoy several Anna’s hummingbirds as well as the Western Swallowtail butterfly with its bright yellow wings trimmed in black. A new butterfly I learned of recently is the fiery skipper. One

A fiery skipper butterfly on a zinnia in my garden.

way to find out what butterflies might be in your neighborhood and could be a new garden friend is to check out this website: http://www.gardenswithwings.com/what-is-a-butterfly-garden.html. You can enter your zip code and discover which butterflies are likely in your area. Recently, I bought a butterfly field guide and was amazed at how many species of butterflies there are in North America.

Occasionally, I might see a Monarch butterfly as I have some milkweed. If you want to plant milkweed to encourage Monarchs, this site will help you plant a native species: http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/CA-milkweed-guide_XercesSoc6.pdf

One of the reasons that the Monarch butterfly is decreasing in abundance is because the milkweed that they are dependent on for reproduction and food is declining across the Midwest due to the growth in intensive agriculture and the use of GMO plants that are resistant to glyphosate herbicide. Milkweed abundance has decreased with increased glyphosate use. Just another unintended consequence of human ingenuity, but we can hope the Monarchs survive us.

If you are interested in becoming a UC Master Gardener, you will need to apply by September 28, for the 19 weekly classes which start in 2019. To apply or if you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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