12 May 2015
The Fritillary Project begins
Regular readers of this blog know that one of my hobbies is photographing butterflies. My preference is not to get images just of the adult, but to document the entire life cycle which includes the eggs, larval caterpillar, and the chrysalis/eclosion.
I can find eggs and such in the "wild," but as a photographer it's a whole world better to have the cycle occurring in your own yard. That's why our home is surrounded by butterfly-related plants. Every midsummer I see fritillaries nectaring in our yard -
- and we have lots of violets, which are their "host" plants (the ones they lay eggs on and the cats feed on). But our violets are in the woods behind the house -
- and the fritillaries are mostly open-field flyers who tend to avoid the shady woods. Several months ago I discovered that fritillaries will also make use of Viola tricolor -
commonly known as "Johnny Jump-up." That member of the violet family thrives in full sun and springs up spontaneously in our yard (but gets whacked by the mower).
So this past week I started planting some designated Viola patches, some in the ground -
The Viola seeds are now planted in the black area behind the patch of Pearly Everlasting, which is host to the American Lady butterflies, and also in some planters, where the new seedlings are trying to push past the petals falling from our crabapple.
The chicken wire is to deter rabbits, and also the chipmunks which vigorously dig and bury stuff in any cultivated ground they find.
I hope to have a bumper crop of Johnny Jump-ups by late June when the fritillaries arrive. Then it will be a matter of finding the eggs and the caterpillars (which are awesome) so we can bring them in to feed them on the screen porch away from parasitic wasps.
Time will tell. I'll post updates if we have any success.
Update: It's been two months since I started this project, and so far the results are mixed. The viola planted in the ground did not thrive (in all fairness, that dirt is of marginal quality and the sun exposure was probably inadequate). Those seeded into the planters in commercial potting mix have grown -
- and now are in full bloom. But no fritillaries have arrived (or at least none that I've noticed). I have seen Great Spangled Fritillaries and Aphrodite Fritillaries on field trips, so they are flying. Even though the number of violas is modest, there are plenty of other nectar plants to lure the frits to our garden. It's not unlike going fishing - you put the bait out and wait. We'll see...