Monarch Butterfly Feeds Contentedly on Verbena Flowers

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Eastern Neck National Wildlife refuge, MD

Each year the Phipps Consevatory’s exquisite Outdoor Gardens changes its offerings. 2012’s plantings were wonderful. For several weeks my morning visits saw no butterflies at the large groupings of these verbena. Yes they were a vivid red, a color that is usually guaranteed to draw lepidoptera. Yes they were expertly planted and massed, mulched and in sunny beds. Surely they must be producing nectar, don’t you think?

Yet no butterflies, until the 3rd week in August. Taddah! That morning butterflies of several species were at the verbena, methodically moving from flower to flower, not rushing. Apparently most of these individual flowers was pumping-out sugary nectar.

Our female Danaus plexippus is feeding contentedly, even tolerating my macro- approach to within about 12 inches. She may well be preparing her eggs and appreciating the abundant nutrients in this nectar/pollen cocktail.

Back to the issue at hand, the verbena appeared to be lush and healthy, but brought no butterflies for several weeks. Then they became a magnet for hungry butterflies. What changed? Why? Anyone?