Tag Archive | painted lady butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

It seems to be a good year at the farm for butterflies.  Little yellow Sulphurs are everywhere.  I have seen several Monarchs.  The past few years, Monarchs were becoming rare sightings.  Perhaps the nationwide attention and emphasis by private individuals on planting milkweed has helped this species.  Another butterfly that sometimes feeds on milkweed is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui.)  This insect has orange wings with black and white markings.  There are four eye spots on the outsides of the bottom wings.

We have a good supply of Painted Ladies this year.  Here at the farm the caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, milkweed and aster, among other plants.  They are not such specialized feeders as the Monarch, perhaps helping their numbers to stay more plentiful.  The Painted Lady larva need to finish munching on the fall asters soon, turn into butterflies and head south.  The very mild weather we have been experiencing the past week, with near-record warmth, will not continue.  The butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico to over-winter.  They need to get started before the frosts come to Maine.

Already our tree leaves are turning color and beginning to drop.  There has been no frost yet, but the decreasing light has triggered the trees’ autumn show.  As long as the heat continues, the zinnas will bloom in abundance in my vegetable garden.  When frosts hits, they die immediately.  Painted Lady butterflies seem particularly fond of zinna nectar.  I often find several of these insects on the flowers at one time.

Sunday the temperatures soared to near 90F, yesterday we hit 86F at the farm and today promises more of the same.  This is idyllic weather for the two week period that comprises the life span of the adult Painted Lady butterfly.  As they begin their trip south, the insects will continue to feed, mate, lay eggs and die.  The progeny will progress toward warm Mexican winter homes, sustaining the Painted Lady population for another year.

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Pearly Everlasting

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As I was cutting the pasture with the rotary mowing machine to keep the weeds down and encourage the grass, I spotted one of these plants.  It is a pearly everlasting, a native Maine wildflower. Some quick maneuvering saved the plant from disaster.

The scientific name is Anaphalis margaritacea and it is related to asters.  It is a perennial with either male or female plants.  I can’t tell the sex of this plant by looking so will wait to see if it produces seeds.

As the name suggests, this flower works well for dried arrangements, retaining its pearly white bract color rather than fading to beige.  The foliage has a silvery cast with a pleasant scent when crushed.

Pearly Everlasting has medicinal uses for native peoples including sore throat, headache and diarrhea relief. The plant parts can also be used to create yellow, gold, green or brown dyes.  Its most valuable use after dried arrangements is as a favored food source of the Painted Lady butterfly larvae. I will be looking for seeds to collect from this plant to spread in my wildflower insect reserves.