There’s a whole lot of activity happening at Wildflower Farm. With the blooming of the flowers comes the buzzing of the bees and the flutter of the butterflies.
“But, Marette,” you’re saying, “you talked about butterflies last week.” To which I can only respond, “Yes, I certainly did.” And there’s a reason for that. As much as I love to read and write about monarchs, they are not the only butterfly out there struggling to survive.
And in all honesty, butterflies are attractive, well-liked insects. Yes, they are the charismatic megafauna of the insect world and I am not ashamed to use them to improve the natural world for other critters who may be suffering.
This week: Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). One of my favourite Latin plant names to pronounce.
The late spring bloomer is a member of the carrot family: the umbel flower shape gives that away pretty quickly. The bright yellow flower will last a few weeks in the garden and will do well as a cut flower, too.
Zizia provides garden blooms in that awkward time when early bloomers are finishing and summer bloomers have yet to arrive. This is an added bonus for the hungry insects foraging around your lot.
Plant in full sun to part shade in an area that gets some moisture. Not a fan of sandy soil, but will work fabulously in loam and clay.
Hardy to Zone 3.
Zizia aurea provides food for a number of butterfly species (not to mention a whole host of other insects), the largest of which is the swallowtail (black and Ozark).
Left: black swallowtail; Right: Ozark swallowtail
Although a generalist where food and egg-laying is concerned, Zizia aurea is one of the few native plants to host these species. Many introduced plants have become favourites (dill and parsley to name a few) but if you’re looking for native hosts, golden Alexanders is your one-stop shop.
You’ll see the very recognizable ‘adult’ caterpillars (or the more conspicuous ‘baby’ caterpillars) munching away at the leaves in late spring-early summer, depending on where you live.
Young swallowtail caterpillars mimic bird droppings for protection. The adults are a colourful combination of yellow, green, and black.
While you’re out there looking for black or Ozark swallowtails, keep an eye out for the spring azure, duskywing, frosted elfin, orange sulfur, clouded sulfur and painted lady – all species that frequent the plant to feed and lay eggs.
Top, left to right: spring azure, duskywing, frosted elfin
Bottom, left to right: clouded sulfur, painted lady, orange sulfur
I’ve provided open wing images of the sulfurs since they look very similar. Orange sulfurs have the distinctive orange colour on the interior side of their wings.
Remember to look for other insects as well while you’re out there. Non-stinging wasps, mining bees, soldier beetles, syrphid flies…the list goes on and on as does the benefits you bring to your garden by planting the native Zizia aurea.