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When I was a child, I had a butterfly collection that was my pride and joy. I'll grant you that not everyone thought collecting insects was a suitable hobby for a little girl. However, it was certainly an affordable one, since I made my own butterfly net out of a mesh bag that had held oranges, a length of bamboo, and a coat hanger. Daddy kept me supplied with empty cigar boxes to hold my collection, and Mama provided pins for my specimens. An aunt recommended that I read "Girl of the Limberlost", which provided much inspiration, and which also ensured that I would return to the library for anything I could read about butterflies and moths.
Back then, I had an almost limitless suppy of material for my collection, since every yard in my neighborhood was bordered by hedges of flowering plants, which drew butterflies seeking nectar. Additionally, we had a few vacant lots, which were generally allowed to grow up with a weedy assortment of native plants which also drew butterflies, both for nectar and for caterpillar food. At the time I didn't know haw important it was to have the correct "host" plants for hungry larvae in order to have butterflies. The books I read were good sources of butterfly identification, but gave little information on raising them. However, we had a number of the trees and the smaller plants that served as host plants for a variety of showy butterflies and moths. Many of these were wild plants native to our area, and thus a vital part of the ecosystem that included my favorite insects
Now, fast forward to today. Highways criss-cross America, connecting cities surrounded by suburbs and shopping malls. Houses are set in expanses of grass and feature insect resistant hedges and non native trees. Shopping malls are sterile expanses of asphalt parking spaces, with the occasional token tree, generally also an exotic species that no native caterpillars accept as food. This is not a friendly environment for butterflies, or humans, for that matter.
As always, what we do in the present helps shape the course of the future. If we want to see more butterflies, we must allow for their needs at all stages of their life cycle. It isn't enough to plant a butterfly bush and say we've done our part. No native caterpillars eat the leaves of that bush. The butterflies it attracts grew up somewhere else ! It is true that we might have to change some of our cherished ideas of what constitutes a beautiful yard. Plants nibbled on by hungry caterpillars may not look as tidy as some that no self respecting caterpillar would eat, but will more than repay the home owner with the beauty of fluttering multi-colored wings. I have heard objections that butterfly supportive gardening is "too untidy", "might draw bees", "is just full of weeds", etc.. But, if you can see the beauty in God's awesome creation, and want to work with Him in preserving it, try at least a small space given to such plants as asclepias, echinacea, perhaps a Lindera benzoin bush . Try some gardening without insecticides.
If you want more practical suggestions, visit my website at http://butterflyladybedford.org/ Then, if you really want to see what butterflies are flying now in a natural area, join with Central Virginia Master Naturalists in a butterfly count at Ivey Creek Park on Sept. 1st, from 9-4. Or come to the Nature Zone for a bit of hands on training at 10 AM on Aug. 25th. Come for the day or just a few hours, and be sure to bring the kids for some healthy fun in the park.