Sunday, July 27, 2014

Create a Great Butterfly Watching Experience...Discover Spreading Dogbane First

So what the heck is Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)? It is a perennial flowering plant related to Milkweed that grows between 10 and 40 inches in height. Fragrant, small, bell-shaped flowers hang downward from the apex of the plant. Meadows, forest openings, and ravines in disturbed or intact habitat are home. Distribution includes most of the country, avoiding the southeast and southern Great Plains. Extensive background information of the plant can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society websites.

Spreading Dogbane
This plant flowers at at time when many other wildflowers have bloomed and gone to seed. I touched on this topic, plant phenology, on my blog earlier this spring. Essentially, wildflowers adhere to a timetable that is very ephemeral in nature...for us that is. Plants main job is to reproduce, in the form of a seed or fruit. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies are part of the fertilization process. Wildlife seems to have an innate intelligence concerning the where, when and how of food/resources. It is taking me a while to discover this. I know in early spring find sap wells for overwintering adult butterflies. As the season progresses my looking targets specific wildflowers and mud puddles:


When late summer and fall roll around, I'm checking out the blooming Rabbitbrush. I've been missing a plant(s) that is attractive to butterflies for mid to late summer...until six days ago. A mid-elevation Sapphire Mountain wildflower meadow was the destination for a Fritillary finding expedition. As I zig-zagged made my way up Sawmill Creek Road, spied a stand of flowering plants at the 3.5 mile mark:

Dogbane Location (red rectangle)
I stopped the car, nice pull off on switchback corner, and walked over to see if there was any activity. To my surprise it was teaming with butterflies, mostly Fritillary species. Took many still photos and video of the butterflies in action:



Perhaps Spreading Dogbane is in your area to make for a great butterfly watching experience. Or don't worry about this fact...go to your favorite forest preserve, nature center, wildlife refuge and make your own wildlife discoveries :-)