Small Town Mystery?

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Pickerelweed blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

This satisfying image brought me to thinking. Sure, I know that this Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge has been home to tens of thousands of butterflies, for as long as we can reckon. Yes, that puts these Pickerelweed blooms close, very close to butterflies like this Gulf Fritillary.

I have no doubt that these little blooms emit aromatic nano packets of sensory activating hydrocarbons. The Gulfs follow the ‘trail’ of those aroma bursts, some 100 feet or 400 feet, and reach this sizable flowerstalk, optimistic and hungry. All that reckons with my high school and college Chemistry understandings.

Tougher to grasp is this, my new garden. In February 2018 I started creating beds, where before there was mowed ground. From that mild later winter, to last month, those beds were planted with native Georgian plants, from Pussytoes to Hercules Club to Clethra to a slew of trees: BlackCherry, Hickory, Sassafras, Plums, Atlantic White Cedar, Hoptree and more. Sure, there were some setbacks, the most challenging the acknowledgment that there were most wet areas that retained below ground water for weeks. Ok, that forced some switharoos, but y’all had been there, had to do that.

The result? We were mobbed by butterflies. Gulf Fritillaries on the Passionflower. Cloudywings on the small Zinnias (non-native) and Starflower (?). Giant Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Buckeyes, Ladies, Zebra and Zebra Heliconians, many, many species of Skippers . . . Just mobbed. I loved it, I did. A lifelong dream that, butterflies from February to November.

Comes the mystery. There is not, to my knowledge, a garden like this in town (the County Courthouse is 2 blocks away, we are squarely in town) for at least 3/4 mile in any direction. I know why this Gulf here found this luxurious wetland Pickerelweed. I do not know how the hundreds (thousands) of butterflies found my garden, from such great distances?? Do you?

I’ve planted 2 Atlantic White Cedars. Will a very special Juniper Hairstreak ever know that their hostplant is here? I’m in the midst of a frustrating search for Sweet Leaf AKA Horse Sugar trees. Will the rare King’s Hairstreak, a big long shot, find those? How’d the Great Purple Hairstreak, my first ever seen, find my garden last summer???

Small town mystery?

Jeff

Who Knows Shrimp Plants?

Shrimp Plant photographed by Jeff Zablow in Eatonton Georgia

I waited, and my time arrived. For years, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I’d heard of the great magnet for butterflies, the southern Shrimp Plant. It a native wild flowering shrub that pumps nectar, I was told, and well, Jeff, you won’t be able to cultivate it in your Pittsburgh yard, for it’s a southeastern wildflower.

With the annual icing of Pittsburgh, that year (was it 2014 ?) when the thermometer did not rise above 0 degrees F for an entire week, and those 2 or 3 bad falls when I was walking Petra on icy sidewalks, and Oh No! a dog or a squirrel appeared, and she abandoned the heel position, and her 96 pound heft left me sprawled on the sidewalk of Squirrel Hill. Yes, the very same Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh where Bowers slaughtered 11 innocent Jews just 2 days ago.

Friends had become ‘snow-birds’ and split their year between “Boca [Raton]” and Pittsburgh. Me? I’d been traveling to Georgia to photograph butterflies, and the Georgia Piedmont beckoned me. The thought of gardening in February/March/September/October & 1/2 of November was an elixir, it was.

I had long dreamed of southern natives gardening, those Shrimp plants, Mistflower plants, Passionflower vines, Hibiscus, Pawpaw, Hercules Club, Mountainmint, Hoptree, Pipevine and more, all growing robust and strong in the affirmative Georgia soil.

One year in, I have that garden and more on a fenced in lot, and Petra is ecstatic.

Remains the question . . . this, my Shrimp plant. It’s strong, luxuriant and always bears flowers. Virginia gifted it to me (Thank you! Virginia). After 3 months of fine production, I have not yet to see a butterfly on this, my Shrimp plant. Friends in Shellman Bluff told me of its butterfly prowess. Mine? Zero.

Who knows Shrimp plants? Phil, Kelly, Ellen, Melanie, Heather, Virginia, Cathy, Mike, Jill, Lisa, Marcie and Debbi?

Jeff