Spicebush & Vegas

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

What’ve I seen? Well, I’ve seen perhaps some 50 or so Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies, these 24 years of earnestly hunting for butterflies. That makes them a Will of the Wisp butterfly for me, one that you see on say, day 3 of a 4 or 5 day field trip. They fly in silently, elegantly, and by the time you register ‘Spicebush!!,’ he or she has already begun to fly away.

When I saw those 2 of them, here in my New! Georgia Piedmont natives garden, months apart, I mentally bookmarked, ‘Get their hostplants: Spicebush and Sassafras. Glassberg in his field guide Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America shares that they are “U-A.” That is, that finding them can be uncommon or abundant depending on where you are. So mark me down in the “U” end of the spectrum, for I almost never see them.

My sizable natives garden, here in Eatonton, now sports both hostplants, Sassafras and Spicebush, though we are now entering only year 2 for each of them. I did find a lone Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar in October 2018, brought it in to my new ‘cube,’ and it now rests as a chrysalis in the cube on the back porch.

This buster accommodated me at the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat right here in Eatonton. What say you of him?

If I queried Las Vegas on the odds of my attracting Spicebush adult butterflies this 2019, I haven’t a hunch as to what they’d come back with.

I so want these winged beauties to visit, and stay a while. Vegas?

Jeff

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