Friday, April 04, 2008

Butterflies and Smithsonian; Invasive Species and You

Ornamental species which are prolific bloomers and are seen to be feeding butterflies are sold and planted as members-in-good-standing of a butterfly garden. The problem is that we are feeding adult butterflies while forgetting that they are not born as ready-to-be-seen creatures of the garden. We plant flowers for the adults on the one hand, while at the same time working diligently to remove all traces of the caterpillar which is busy eating our plants. In other words, we remove the native host plants which provide a food source for the caterpillars, while planting exotics in the hope that we are creating a butterfly garden. We ask our garden centers to sell us plants which are inedible to insect damage, and therefore, plant exotic species which cannot host the early stages of life for the very insects we hope to have visit our landscapes

The use of non-native plants may result in limiting the number of species of visiting butterflies. This concept may be counter-intuitive if you have not thought through the remarkable life cycle of these extraordinary and beautiful insects. Plants that are not native to the area have not evolved with the insects and cannot be a food source for the young stages of many insects. Even more importantly from a gardener’s point of view, we have spent a considerable amount of time selecting plants which are not “damaged” by insects. This is another way of saying that we buy plants which are not a food source for insects. At some point in the future there will be fewer butterflies if they have less to eat as caterpillars. If you want to plant a butterfly garden, you need to understand the life cycle of your target audience and you need to supply host plants for all stages, not just the end show; the grand finale.

Adult butterflies can drink the nectar without obstacles. The caterpillars, on the other hand, must deal with evolutionary genetic defenses of the plant species that have evolved over millions of years. For more information on this cycle and alternative gardening practices, please read “Bringing Nature Home” by Dr. Tallamy

Understanding the co-evolution of the creatures and the plants of our landscapes is fundamental to a conservation or sustainable approach to gardening design and installation. To learn more about this beautiful relationship consider visiting the Smithsonian’s Butterfly Habitat Garden, located at on the east side of the museum building, along 9th Street between the Mall and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D. C.

On February 15, 2008 the museum opened its doors and invited visitors to feel the flutter™ in one of its most educational, entertaining and experiential exhibits to date. To help visitors get an up-close and unique look at how butterflies and plants have evolved and diversified together over millions of years, Butterflies features:
A historical journey through the Exhibit Hall, taking visitors through the co-evolution of butterflies and plants. An array of colorful murals, timelines, videos and photographs support the exhibit’s underlying themes of survival and evolution.
1,200-square foot Live Butterfly Pavilion where visitors can walk among more than 300 tropical butterflies (new butterflies introduced on a weekly basis!) and watch firsthand how they interact with their plant partners. Butterflies is located on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History, adjacent to the ever-popular Orkin Insect Zoo. For purchase and additional ticket details, please visit:

“Co-evolution tells us that all species—even humans—play a role in the evolution of the natural community,” said exhibit manager Nate Erwin. “With the knowledge that 99 percent of all species that inhabited the Earth are now extinct, it is important that we all gain a better understanding of nature’s complexity in order to conserve life as we know it today.” The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It also fosters critical scientific research as well as educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists and curators to the public. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to Host Butterfly Exhibit:

Pictures courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

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