The Butterfly Effect by Ivette Soler

This was a hard image to get, as all of the new fritillaries were whirling around like ... well, butterflies!

This was a hard image to get, as all of the new fritillaries were whirling around like … well, butterflies!

For weeks, my garden has been ALIVE with the beating of orange wings! I have Gulf Fritillaries coming at me from every corner of my garden – I think the other day I counted more than 20 – and more are emerging from cocoons every day!

chomp chomp chomp poop poop chomp oops there goes my exoskeleton chomp chomp poop

chomp chomp chomp poop poop chomp oops there goes my exoskeleton chomp chomp poop

I am an ardent collector of passiflora species, and my Passifloras ‘Lavender Lady and edulis are completely chewed up right now, looking shabby and horrid. Why? Because THESE monsters have been chomping on the leaves and getting fat! And they are pooping up a storm. It is hard to imagine how much these babies poop, but I guess when you think about the fact that all they do is eat and molt, the volume of … that stuff … makes perfect sense. It is unseasonably warm (although we in Southern California know that climate change is real – I guess this is just the weather we have now!) so I wonder if that is what is causing this extreme butterfly phenomenon – I have never, in 15 years of growing these vines, seen this much action on them!

I think the Monarch has a great publicity team behind it. Everyone is so concerned about planting the right milkweed so the monarchs will be able to find their way to the traditional monarch fiesta zone in Mexico that they forget about the other beautiful butterflies. There are over 2000 species of butterflies to tempt! Why should all the love go only to the monarchs? I mean I love a monarch, sure, but what about Admirals and Emperors? Snouts and Ladies? Yes, plant milkweed – but plant other things as well! I plant fennel specifically for the Anise Swallowtail – there are native plants that host the larvae, but I can’t harvest fennel seeds from a Tauschia! And I think life without passionflowers, exotic beasts that they are, would be a sad thing, not only because I would miss the incredible floral sculptures that are their blossoms, but also – the dance of the fritillaries is a magical thing to witness.

Once, I was lucky enough to be caught in a “butterfly storm” in the deciduous jungle of the Yucatan, near Merida. I don’t know if I will have a memory that will surpass it – the wonder, the the breathless thrill, the feeling that your heartbeat was being echoed by the tiny wings swirling, diving, and flitting around you … I wish I had the words to impart the glory of that moment. The butterflies were in their element, doing what butterflies do – and we can only witness it by tiptoeing into their worlds and then tiptoeing back out again, stepping very lightly. Let us hope that their native landscape will be preserved, so that we won’t have to argue about what to plant and what they eat and when to plant what they eat. If habitat is preserved, those issues will vanish.

the chrysalis - or pupa- hanging on for dear life from a thread attached to the hook that holds the hinge to my back gate. THAT is determination. And strand silk - they should build bridges from that stuff!

the chrysalis – or pupa- hanging on for dear life from a thread attached to the hook that holds the hinge to my back gate. THAT is determination. And strand silk – they should build bridges from that stuff!

I am NOT anti-native nor am I against feeding wildlife with the native offerings we have, but I find the strong party line is “Natives Only” – and those of us who have been in the trenches for years, gardening organically, planting to attract beneficials and pollinators, know that nature is not that black and white. Life will out. Life adapts. Nature is flexible. The instar of  a butterfly will eat other than a native food source. If that wasn’t the case, evolution wouldn’t really work, as flexibility and adaptability are key for the “survival of the fittest”.  And survival, adaptability, and evolution is what the insect world is particularly good at.

Regular readers of mine know that I am ambivalent about the turning back the clock and trying to re-create native habitats in urban landscapes. So much pressure on the gardener to fix something that they did not break. Climate change has not been caused by people planting the wrong milkweed, or passionflowers attracting a butterfly whose native range has long expanded. Eradication of native landscapes isn’t the fault of the ornamental gardener (GASP!), so I hope we can all take a breath and enjoy the butterflies, no matter what leaf carried them in.

The Butterfly Effect originally appeared on Garden Rant on September 30, 2015.

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