Saturday, October 8, 2011

Prairie Invasion

My front yard prairie is full of flowers. It is amazing how many flowers there are considering the heat and drought we endured this summer. 

A wider view of the prairie shows the colorful flowers of Gayfeather, Mealycup Sage, Scarlet Sage, Four Nerve Daisy, Zexmenia and Pink Skullcap. All of these flowers provoked an invasion of winged insects. At the end of this post is a list of plants that you should not plant if you do not want a similar invasion.

The invaders: butterflies. For the last couple of weeks, my prairie has been filled with butterflies, especially Monarchs. I counted about 25 in the front prairie today. I am sure there were several more in the back prairie while I was counting.

They fly from flower to flower drinking nectar from plants like Frostweed.

This Monarch is feasting on the nectar of Gregg's Mistflower.

Several of the Monarchs paired off with plans of laying eggs to create more butterflies. Caterpillars will hatch from those eggs and eat all of the leaves on my milkweed. I have not seen Monarch caterpillars yet, but I did find notice my pipevine was being consumed by Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars.

Monarchs are not the only butterflies to invade the prairie. Closely related Queen butterflies have a taste for Gregg's Mistflower as well.

A Common Buckeye sips nectar from Gayfeather.

Another Common Buckeye with some wing damage is on the Gregg's Mistflower.

This Skipper is drinking from Gayfeather.

This Painted Lady butterfly is feeding among the flowers of Mealycup Sage.

American Lady is closely related to Painted Lady. American Lady has fewer and larger eye spots on the wings than Painted Lady.

This little Eastern Tailed Blue is resting on Pink Skullcap.

I caught this Common Checkered Skipper laying eggs on a Winecup that rabbits had already nibbled.

This Purple Aster just started blooming. The Willowleaf aster and Fragrant Mistflower will begin blooming in another day or two. They will surely be covered in butterflies as well.

Below is a list of plants to avoid if you don't want butterflies flying around your garden, drinking nectar from your flowers, and laying eggs on your plants. If you just stick with grass and spray pesticides, the butterflies will fly right past your yard.

Plants To Avoid If you Don't Want Butterflies
Conoclinium greggii - Gregg's Mistflower
Eupatorium havanense - Fragrant Mistflower
Liatris mucronata - Gayfeather
Salvia farinacea - Mealycup Sage
Salvia coccinea - Scarlet Sage
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium - Aromatic Aster
Symphyotrichum praealtum  - Willowleaf Aster
Tetraneuris scaposa - Four Nerve Daisy
Verbesina encelioides - Cowpen Daisy
Verbesina virginica - Frostweed
Wedelia hispida - Zexmenia

Here is an interesting video about Monarchs that aired in 2010.


  1. Gorgeous display of plants and invaders!!! Wow, your garden is just beautiful -- even after a record breaking summer. What a testament to the fact that a drought-tolerant, native garden can still be beautiful! When everyone else's gardens have burned up this year, looks like yours has taken it in stride. You forgot to list my favorite...Salvia greggii. Just added more Zexmenia to my garden today. Great plant!

  2. Thanks Toni. The prairie was not too colorful through parts of July and August when it went dormant to survive the heat and drought. It came back to life once it received rain from a passing shower and the temperatures started to cool down.

    I considered adding Salvia gregii to the list. It really looks great at this time of year, but it is not much of a butterfly plant in my garden. It is more of a bee and hummingbird plant.

  3. If only we had several thousand more people like you. The monarchs would not have to starve as they fly to Mexico across Texas. The drought is expected to result in the lowest survival numbers ever.

    I'm hoping to get to start a butterfly garden at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, my next volunteer stop.

  4. I love the look of your garden now. What really stands out to me is the way the liatris looks like shooting stars. Just beautiful. Thanks for the list. I have some, but need to get more - especially more liatris!

  5. Beautiful! There's a spot in my yard where I want to try this but I've got a long way to go to get close to the beauty you have there. Just picked up Four-nerve daisy and Zexmenia for a start.

  6. Great photo story. I never get tired of your garden. If we had to move to the burbs and an all sun yard, I'd definitely transform it into a long as the homeowner's association would oblige. Speaking of which, I do hope the ONE postive in all this drought and water rationing is the realization by gardeners and homeowner associations that there IS another way to live.
    Have you been on the news? You should!!! Get a local station to do a broadcast from your garden so that others can see it in action. The thought has never occurred to many that having a prairie yard is possible.
    All the best. David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston :-)

  7. Mealy blue is a staple for butterflys in my garden also. All my varieties of liatris are done. Noticed a variety of Liatris blooming from Kansas to Texas along the monarch trail. Could that be your variety? Those mistflowers, how cold hardy?
    Garden looks great.
    I transplanted two bunches of little blue this week. Also some native goldenrods.

  8. Marilyn, I was surprised at the numbers of monarchs in my garden this year considering the drought. I can’t tell for sure because they all look the same, but they seem to be lingering here and enjoying the available food sources. They still have a long flight to Mexico from here.
    I think it is great the way you spend your retirement years volunteering. What a great way to do something you are passionate about, stay active and see the country.

    Holley, I think fall gardens look the best of all. The Liatris came from a native plant sale. They said they were found growing in black gumbo soil somewhere around here. They were not sure of the variety. I have referred to them as Liatris mucronata, but I think they may be Liatris punctata. I started with one four inch pot with two plants. I scattered the seeds from the first blooms and now I have a prairie full of them. They did very well this summer. The larger plants had a nice form even without flowers.

    Thanks Shirley. If you plant your four nerve daisies and zexmenia in a spot where they are happy, you will never need to buy more of them again. They are good reseeders. Maybe a little too good.

    David, I did have a brush with fame last year when my garden was featured in the Dallas Morning News. There is a link to the story in my Links. I doubt that the prairie garden concept will catch on with the average homeowner. The freeform style requires more thoughtful maintenance than weekly mowing and an annual trimming of shrubs into boxes or balls.

    Greggo, it could be the same Liatris. See my response to Holley. I am not sure how cold hardy the mistflowers are. They are from the Rio Grande area and do fine here in zone 8 winters. The Plant Delights website lists them as zone 7, so a little too tender for your Kansas winters.

  9. it! One of the only sad things about living in PDX is that I don't ever see Monarchs around here :-( It's good to see your garden is really bouncing back now...looks great...especially the Little Bluestem...that fall coloring is outstanding!

  10. I like Marilyn Kirkus's comment about monarchs needing more gardens like yours. It's absolutely stunning. What is the toasted-sesame colored grass? Little bluestem?

    I keep referring to your posts on my Lawn Alternatives Facebook page. They are very inspiring.

  11. Bluestem, I'm going to be in Richardson soon & would love to visit if convenient. Could you email me at pam at penick dot net? Thanks.

  12. What a fun post! I want your kind of invasion. We've had few butterflies this summer between drought and deer damage to our habitat. I'm hoping for more rain and I'll replant next season. Maybe more fencing too.

    Didn't know winecup is a host! Mine are barely hanging on but the few remaining leaves tell me the tubers are still alive.

  13. Scott, I guess there are tradeoffs. We get monarchs and drought and you get cooler summers and rain. The photos were taken on a moist morning. The moisture really brings out the colors in the little bluestem and other grasses. The colors fade a bit once the stems dry in the sun.

    Pam, the toasted-sesame colored grass must be little bluestem. The other grasses visible in the photos are pine muhly and big bluestem. You can barely see the top of the big bluestem in the lower center of the second photo. It is the same color as the little bluestem. I have Indian grass in the front prairie too. After the heat and drought, it just looks like toast. I don’t have an official Facebook profile, but I did see your post on Lawn Alternatives. Thanks for the complimentary comments.

    Kathleen, I did not know winecup was a butterfly host either. I just thought it was rabbit candy. When I was taking pictures of the Common Checkered Skipper I could tell she was laying eggs. I researched the butterfly to make sure I had the correct ID and found that plants in the mallow family are their caterpillar hosts. Here is a link to a profile on this butterfly.

  14. Hi from a fellow Plano resident and anti-lawn person! I tore up half of my front yard a few years ago and put in mostly native plants, but it doesn't look nearly as nice as yours! You have a great eye. Let me know if you'd like to do a plant and/or seed swap sometime or just gain a local gardening friend.

  15. Tamara, I found your blog a year ago and then you stopped posting! Looks like you are starting up again. Thanks for the comments. I think I have more plants than I need right now, but let me know if I have one that you would like to try. I am always thinning and relocating.

  16. Thanks Bluestem...yep, I'm revving up the blog again. (Was there a fall plant sale at the Heard this year? I thought they usually had one but didn't see it on the schedule..?)

  17. Tamara, I don't think the Heard had a fall sale this year. Have you been to the plant sales at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens? They have spring and fall sales and they are well worth the drive.

  18. I have never been to the FW events - guess I just missed the fall sale. :(

    I'll take whatever plants you're offering, thanks! Pitcher sage and green milkweed caught my eye, especially, from your pictures. (Would you be interested in a starter pad from a purple prickly pear? Very pretty.)

  19. Nice habitat scenes, not to mention the resilience in your plant variety.

    I also enjoyed the way you titled your list, "Plants To Avoid If you Don't Want Butterflies"!

  20. Tamara, my pitcher sage does not reseed, so I don't have any plants to share yet. If you are good with seeds, I could give you some seed heads to try. I also have seeds for the milkweed, but no extra plants at this time. I have lots of four nerve daisy, mealy cup sage and greggs mistflower. I also have some false indigo seedlings.

    Thanks David. It is all about selecting the right plant for the climate and location. And then dry, hot years like this one put your selections to the test. Fortunately, most of mine did well.

  21. Seeds would be fab - I'm grateful for whatever you have to share. Let me know when you're free for a visit. After seeing Pam's pictures, especially, I can't wait to see the Plano Prairie.


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