Amanda Wilkins, Curator of Collections
It’s been awhile since spring plant sale, but now we’re moving into the time when we’re seeing out beloved bees and butterflies return to the region. With that, we’re reminded we have the botanical tools to lure them to our gardens and lend them a hand as they complete their life cycles.
The MarketPlace at the Mobile Botanical Gardens has a host of lovely nectar plants that we know and love, such as Salvias, Coneflowers (Rubeckia ssp. and Echinacea ssp.), and Coreopsis. But we also have many of the plants some species of butterfly need to have to feed their caterpillars.
Well, we’ve got a deal for you!
We’ve developed a wagon of the last few native pollinator plants left from Plantasia, and they’re going to be for sale for $65, more than 10 percent off!
The cart consists of:
- 1- Alabama ox-eye daisy- Heliopsis helianthoides– Small butterflies, like skippers, love to get nectar form these. They are one of the first things to come up with the spring and the last to go down in the winter. This one likes more sun than most, but can tolerate some shade during a part of the day. Definitely prefers well-drained soils.
- 1- Indian Blanket- Gaillardia sp.– The red and yellow flowers on this sunflower-relative really get the little butterflies going.
- 1- Hammock Snakeroot- Ageratina jucunda– I have seen all sorts of bees and butterflies on this plant. Pale blue/purple flowers make a great accent in a naturalistic garden.
- 1- Stiff Bluestar- Amsonia rigida– The feathery habit of this plant paired with the blue star-shaped flowers will have those butterflies coming back for more. Make sure the site is moist, but well-drained.
- 2- Golden Alexander- Zizia aurea– HOST FOR: black swallowtails. Ever had black swallowtail caterpillars eat your fennel? Well try this native relative to see if you can get a piece of that licorice action this year. This plant has dainty yellow flowers and ours have been blooming in the nursery since February!
- 1- Small-flower Pawpaw- Asimina parviflora– HOST FOR: Zebra swallowtails. When you don’t have room for the pawpaw we love to eat (Asimina triloba), you can make some for this shrubby (to 6-8 ft.) one. The rusty, golden hairs on the obovate leaves add an interesting texture to a garden, but it is the bizarre fruits that’ll have you scratching your head.
- 1- Starry Rosinweed- Silphium asteriscus – The Longleaf Pine Forest at MBG is graced with this plant in the summer time and there are few things lovelier than going out to watch the bees go to town on the disk florets. They love them! The flowers get to a good height (3-4 ft.) so they can be planted behind something for an airy effect.
- 1- Coreopsis– An all-time favorite of bees and butterflies of all types.
If those don’t trip your trigger, consider adding these to your butterfly hospitality suite:
Hop Wafer, or Wafer Ash – Ptelea trifoliate
Host for: Giant and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The common name comes from the wafer-like fruits this plant makes in April and May. It is deceptive, but it is related to lemons and limes (in the family Rutaceae!). It flowers in large, terminal heads and little flies and bees like to collect the oils for their hives. The larva (caterpillars) of two species of swallowtail like to munch on the leaves, so don’t be afraid if you see something eating the leaves.
Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua
Host for: Luna Moth
The sap from this tree used to be used for making candy. I’ve never tried it, but who knows, maybe it was tasty! We do know, however, that this is one of the host plants for luna moths, those gorgeous, large, green moths we sometimes see in the summertime outside on the porch. If you’ve got a well-drained spot in your yard and a spot in your heart for the lovely rainbow of fall foliage this tree creates, this is the one for you.
Hercules’ Club, or Toothache Tree – Zanthoxylum clava-herculis–
Host for: Giant Swallowtail
This gnarly plant is a show-stopper: it has shiny, compound leaves with thorns (well, really botanically prickles) down the trunk. The leaves can be used as a temporary numbing agent, due to oil in the plant. It’s also a reason why the larva of the giant swallowtail likes to chew on it (or maybe they have a toothache too!).The reason the plant has this oil is that it is in the citrus family, as well (family Rutaceae).