24 Years of Adoring This Wildflower

Butterflyweed at Doak Field photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I’d visit the same spots in Doak Field, often just at the right time! What was I checking for every year? I was hoping to find Butterflyweed in peak of bloom, in this more than 100 acre meadow in Raccoon Creek State Park, 45 minutes west off Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We went there in the last week of June 2018. I vividly remember leaving the Nichol Road Trail and entering Doak Field. A 5 minutes hike through the cut paths in the meadow, and I arrived at the main ‘spot.’ Look here what I saw! The Butterflyweed plants were numerous and lush. In those last 24 years, there, I cannot remember a finer, more beautiful population of this milkweed.

I adore these flowers, for they often attract squads of butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Monarchs, Silver Spotted Skippers, the hardly ever seen Aphrodite Fritillary, various Skippers and my favorite, the Coral Hairstreak.

I’ve come to understand this amazing Asclepias (milkweed). It took those decades for me to fathom its puzzling behavior. I only visit it in the morning, a total of some 24 years of observing Butterflyweed.

I’ve learned that it only ‘pumps’ nectar for a very brief time in the morning, perhaps for 45 minutes or less, and that applies to the 10 or 20 or more found in those 100+ acres. Butterflies visit much when it is producing nectar, and then, usually around 10-ish in the morning, they stop coming.

I’ve come to expect to not see my beloved Coral Hairstreaks, for they often completely skip a year, even a year with a rich crop of Butterflyweed. I love those Corals, for they remind me of those good times, when Frieda A”H was with us, and how she loved Coral, and scoured here and there to find jewelry with richly tinted coral, she explaining that wealthy Chinese love fine Coral, and will pay a premium to the market to acquire it (reminds me of those many visits to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, especially Christie’s).

What happened this day, here? Did the Corals fly in, the others? No. Nary a single butterfly was seen on any of the Butterflyweeds. I went here again the next day, with the same disappointing result.

So Butterflyweed’s Big Mystery remains. Full, lush, gorgeous flowerheads, peak. Peak, yet it is clear that they are not the sirens on the rocks those days, drawing few if any butterflies to their full flowerheads.

I had my grandson with me this morning, and on the drive to Doak Field, I told him how I hoped to see just such Butterflyweed, told him how when they pump they resemble Grand Central Station in NYNY, and I forewarned him that we might see Corals, and that would be Wowwww! It was kind of sad that we didn’t see our Corals, or most other butterflies, but we did see prize-winning Butterflyweed, albeit very lonely Butterflyweed.

Jeff

Skipper On Buttonbush

Unidentified Skipper Butterfly on Buttonbush photographed by Jeff Zablow at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, GA

We were searching late in the season Buttonbush, growing at the edge of Pond 2A at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Juliette, Georgia. Buttonbush is a native wetland plant whose blooms are excellent nectar bars for many butterflies. It’s just as wonderful to see it growing in Akeley Swamp in far western New York State as it is to see it 960 miles south in the Georgia Piedmont.

I set it in my natives garden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania . . . and just 3 days ago purchased some healthy young Buttonbush at Nearly Natives Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia.

The skipper here? Wouldn’t it be nice if one of you shared a definitive ID?

Br’er Rabbit, Brooklyn & the Briar Patch

Briar Rabbit statue photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms Briar Patch Habitat, Eatonton, GA

Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch II will soon be entering its 2nd year at the Eatonton, Georgia site. Virginia Linch and her band of volunteers, by necessity, had to move this Butterfly wonderland from the other side of town to this new, much larger location. Many, I included, were reluctant to make that move. I’d driven down from Pittsburgh in 2015, 2016 and 2017 just to shoot butterflies there.

Y’all showed sign of tiring of solely northeastern USA butterflies, even with a sprinkling of Israeli, Mississippi and Arizona Leps thrown in. The challenge was how to travel to 7 different Southern U.S. states, and without anyone to guide me, find dozens of southeastern U.S. butterflies. When I came across Virginias’s Facebook page, and learned of the 2-acre Wonder, I visited the Briar Patch Habitat. OMG! Two acres with several hundred butterflies aloft at any given time. Imagine that.

Virginia took this once thriving aluminum factory site, now a brownfield, and converted it into the best butterfly destination this side of the Mississippi River. I’ll not go into how she did it without any significant grants or financial Big Daddy, how they acquired hundreds of hostplants and who/how they got planted.

Br’er Rabbit here, greets you as you enter Briar Patch II. He hand carved from carefully chosen Florida swamp trees. Joel Chandler Harris’ series of childrens’ books tell the tales of the denizens of the old-time Briar Patch, right here in Eatonton. Written before the Civil War, he writes of the wit and cunning of this Br’er Rabbit, of the challenges presented by Br’er Fox, the lovable lumbering Br’er Bear and the lesson offered why Br’er Tortoise.

How do I know this? Back in Brooklyn, New York, I sat on my Mother’s lap, as she read me the Br’er Rabbit tales penned by that same Joel Chandler Harris. I’m told that I made her read them to me over and over and then again and again. Now when I pull into the Habitat’s Eatonton parking lot, there he is larger than life, Br’er Rabbit, and that evokes the good memories, back up there, some 840 miles north!

This Butterflies & Blooms Habitat will be exceptional in 2019, once those 7.7 million seeds sprout, and they put in an additional 359 hostplants and wildflowers.  Give me a call before you head out, won’t you?

Jeff

Comely Swamp Wildflowers

Wildflowers (Unidentified) photographed by Jeff Zablow at Akeley Swamp, NY

Akeley Swamp was a feast for the eyes and the other senses. It was late June 2018. This very western New York State Swamp sported several hundred thousand Common Milkweed blooms that sunny, windless day. Here and there we were treated to fresh Canada Lilies. At the tiny bridge over the trail, we could see the same Cardinal flower plants we’d seen before, they some 2 days or so away from spilling their lipstick-red blooms.

It was a flawless day, expect . . .  for a dearth of butterflies. Happily, I did see my first ever Hickory Hairstreak butterfly. The air lanes were free of butterflies though. We discussed this odd lack of butterflies, but we had no explanation for it.

With fewer butterflies, I had more time to see it all. I saw these wildflowers, they growing on the edge of the Swamp. Real-time, this is exactly their color. I liked their look, guessing . . . Mallow?

Please be so kind as to help me ID them? They did charm me, but their name?

Jeff