Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plums' Bloom Herald Spring's Butterflies

My hands down favorite time of year is now: when the wild plums bloom. They herald the season of spring butterflies, many of which can be seen at no other time. Wild Plums are valuable plants for the landscape as their pollen and nectar rich flowers attract a plethora of beneficial insects and pollinators. Last night I hiked up on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail and admired their flowers abuzz with life from honeybees to tiger swallowtails. Their aroma brings back fond memories from childhood on my grandparent's Iowa farm, where they used to bloom down the fence rows. My grandmother would make a wild plum-apple jelly from them that was always a treat. Their scent brings back her laugh and feel of her loving hands. I have written an unpublished story of the wild plum and how it should be cultivated in every Midwestern landscape.

Here's a close up bloom of a wild plum transplanted next to the hort cabin. There are actually four species native in the area and all are relatively similar: American Plum (Prunus americana), Wildgoose Plum (Prunus munsoniana), Hortulan Plum (Prunus hortulana) and the depicted Bigtree or Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana). I've seen all but the Hortulan Plum growing wild at Powell Gardens and all will be displayed in the Heartland Harvest Garden.
Matt Bunch discovered this Luna Moth on the Hort Cabin's front porch. It is my favorite of our wonderful moths and usually its first brood emerges when the plums bloom--right on schedule again this year! Pairing insect emergence with blooming plants is much better than looking at the calendar--it is officially known as "coincide" and it is especially important for pest control. I found another beautiful Luna moth up on the Nature Trail sitting on the prairie grasses. Adult Luna Moths have no mouth parts and cannot feed, but their caterpillars eat the leaves of walnuts (and hickories, persimmon and sweetgum, though I have never found them there).
I saw 19 species of butterflies yesterday including numerous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. This one is sipping salts from wet gravel and he let me take his picture. The Powell Gardens Byron Shutz Nature Trail is a great place to observe butterflies but is extremely wet with our more than double average rainfall. Be sure to wear waterproof duck shoes or boots as we cannot fix wet areas without causing more damage (ruts) at this time.
I saw more Goatweed Leafwings (a velvety orange butterfly) than ever before yesterday as well as numerous Falcate Orangetips, which I always feel are indicators of a good season and don't necessarily emerge every year. The orangetips are a butterfly that can only be seen in April--small white butterflies with bright almost fluorescent orange wingtips on the males. I was relieved to see Monarch butterflies too! You may know they suffered a devastating winter because of lumber poaching in their tiny overwintering "preserves" in Mexico. Look up KU's Monarch Watch web site for all the gory details. I have seen at least five Monarchs that made it back!

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