Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Flutterby Visitors

"You cannot do a kindness too soon
because you never know how soon it will be too late."
                                                                                                       Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of our goals for 2014 (and for as long as we own our farm) is to help provide a habitat for Monarch butterflies.  Our farm is a butterfly haven.  In the spring and summer, we probably have several hundred butterflies of at least 10 varieties (that I have seen) feeding happily in our gardens. 

Cedarmere Farm - Butterfly Haven

Cedarmere Farm
They seem perfectly content sharing their home with us humans - they don't mind that I am right there.  In the photos below, I reached out to our fluttery friends with one hand and took a picture of them with my iPhone in the other hand.  I was practically on top of them and they didn't seem to care a bit.  I guess they haven't learned to be afraid of humans.

Cedarmere Farm

Cedarmere Farm

Types of Butterflies at Our Farm

I have seen 10 types of butterflies in our garden: Swallowtail, Frittilary, Red-Spotted Purple,  Clouded Sulfur, Skipper, Summer Azure, Duskywing, West Virginia White, Buckeye and Monarch.  Our butterfly population is predominantly Swallowtails.


Swallowtail butterflies are by far the largest butterflies that frequent our gardens.  There are four types of Swallowtail: Eastern Tiger, Spicebush, Zebra, and Pipevine.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The most common Swallowtails at our farm are Eastern Tiger.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Dark Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail is probably my favorite type of Swallowtail.  This butterfly is similar to the Pipevine and dark female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, but it has two rows of orange spots on its hindwings.

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail

These are gorgeous, too!  They are stunning in sunlight.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly


There are three types of Fritillary in Virginia.  The ones that I have seen at our farm are the Great Spangled Fritillaries.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary


Although I have seen a few of the Red-Spotted Purple butterflies, they are a little shy so I was only able to take a picture of just one.

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly


There are two types, Clouded and Orange Sulfur butterflies.  They are very small but very active.  The ones that I have seen at our farm are the Clouded Sulfurs.

Clouded Sulfur Butterfly


Skipper butterflies are very small and can be mistaken for moths.  They earn their name because of their quick darting flight pattern.

Skipper Butterflies

Skipper Butterfly


These butterflies are very small and are constantly on the move.  For some reason, I never had my camera (not even my iPhone camera) whenever I saw these little guys.  They are a beautiful shade of light lilac blue and often fly in groups.

Summer Azure Butterfly


This Duskywing butterfly is a tiny butterfly, as you can see against the bachelor's button.

Duskywing Butterfly


This West Virginia White butterfly is perched atop a Chinese Forget-Me-Not flower.  So, you see how small this butterfly is!  Its wings are translucent.  It looks quite magical in the sunlight!

West Virginia Butterfly


I have seen this butterfly only once in our garden, and unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me.  This butterfly frequents North America, but prefers warmer climates and only breeds there.

Common Buckeye


All season long I did not spot even one Monarch butterfly, until late Fall when almost all the butterflies were gone. One bright, but cold, Autumn morning, I spotted a Monarch flying very slowly around our garden.  I didn't know why that poor Monarch was still around.  Curious, I went online to learn more about Monarchs.  What I learned was quite amazing, but also very sad.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle and also four generations in one year.  Like other butterflies, Monarchs go through the four stages of a normal butterfly life cycle: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adulthood.  Unlike other butterflies, however, the Monarchs' migration also involves four butterflies from four generations.  This means that in February and March, the butterflies come out of hibernation to find a mate.  They then migrate north and east to find a place to lay their eggs.  In March and April, the eggs are laid on milkweed plants (and milkweed only), after which the parent Monarch dies.  It does not take long for the eggs to go through the four stages of the life cycle, with adulthood lasting only two to six weeks.  In May and June, the first generation gives birth to the second generation and dies.  The third generation is born in July and August.  In September and October, the fourth generation is born.  Unlike previous generations, this generation migrates to warmer climates such as Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until the whole process starts all over again.  (Source: )


The Monarch butterfly population cannot  survive without milkweed.  Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed leaves because they are the ONLY source of food for the caterpillars.  Unfortunately, with the rapid development and destruction of meadows, milkweed is becoming scarce.  There are many milkweed species that grow in the United States.  The species that I have seen grown wild on our farm is the common milkweed (asclepias syriaca).  

Common Milkweed (asclepias syriaca)

Tropical milkweed (asclepias curassavica) does quite well at our farm also.  

Tropical Milkweed (asclepias curassavica)

Our goal is to work with a Monarch conservation organization and establish a Monarch way station.  We will keep you abreast of our endeavor, and hopefully, one day (not too long from now), we can post pictures of a successful Monarch way station.

For our visitors who are new to our blog, our farm is also a dragonfly/damselfly haven.  You can see our winged friends HERE


  1. I love this post. I have always ben fascinated by butterflies, they look as if someone painted them. I used to catch them when I was little and put them in a jar with holes on a paper lid, stare and then let them go because a butterfly needs to flutter. We get the Eastern tiger swallowtail quite a bit and some small white ones that have a black dot on each back wing. Occasionally we'll see something a bit more exotic, maybe in the blue or black color range but nothing like these. Maybe I need a butterfly bush.

    1. Amelia,
      Yes, you should plant a butterfly bush! As you can gather from the name, butterflies love this plant. There are many colors to choose from. I love the deep pink/mauve ones. The white ones are pretty, but the flowers get brown more quickly. Butterfly bushes are very easy to grow. You will have to be diligent in deadheading the flowers. When you deadhead the flowers, don't be afraid to cut some of the branches too. For my large bushes, I cut as much as 2 feet and remove most of the smaller/weaker branches. The more you cut, the healthier the plant and the more flowers you will have. Have fun. Christa

  2. Christa...such an awesome, educational post! We have two butterfly bushes, but my intention is to add more. Maybe I should look for milkweed, too. Your little visitors are lovely! Can't wait to hear more about your efforts.

    1. Susan,
      Yes, milkweed! You can go online to determine which species will do well in your area. If you have a difficult time locating the seeds, let me know. A word of caution, they do multiply readily in the right environment. Another plant that butterflies seem to love is the common lilac. They smell heavenly too! I am so excited that you want to help these poor little creatures. Keep me updated. Christa

  3. When my daughter lived in Monterey CA, it was a real treat to see all the monarchs. I love seeing the butterflies at our farm, but the ravenous destruction of the caterpillars is another story.!

    1. Joan,
      I can't recall ever seeing a group of monarchs all at one time. I can't wait until the day I can tell you it's "a real treat to see all the monarchs." Wish us luck. Christa

  4. Hi Christa,

    Wow! They are all so beautiful, but for some reason I am enchanted by the Great Spangled Fritillary, maybe because its patterns are more subtle and blend well with its colour. LOVE the photo of them with those gorgeous flowers! We also have them in our garden, but they are not doing very well. Perhaps they need more hours of sunlight? What are they called? They look like a little like mini sunflowers, but I know they are not.

    Thanks for these very inspiring images!


    1. Good morning Poppy, the flowers that are all yellow are coreopsis 'tequila sunrise' (commonly known as tickseed) and the yellow/red flowers are gaillardia grandiflora 'arizona sun' (commonly known as blanket flowers). The gaillardia like lots of sun and very well-drained soil. They prefer loose, sandy soil that isn't overly fertile with a pH near neutral or slightly alkaline. The coreopsis are tolerant of all types of soil, but the soil needs to be well-drained. They also like lots of sun. Christa