Taking a walk through the gardens at Brookgreen can make you feel like you are in your very own fairytale. With our extensive plantings and array of flowers, we are a haven for winged fauna like butterflies and hummingbirds. In fact, one of the questions we are often asked by visitors is what they can plant to encourage these garden guests to visit their yards. Cheney Taylor, our horticulturist who maintains the Fountain Gardens and Bethea’s Garden, observed some worthwhile activity.
Cheney is known for his bold designs and intriguing plant choices. Among his eye catching selections is passionflower, or maypop, (Passiflora incarnata). This native vine boasts large, purple-blue flowers with a truly unique form.
I’m not alone in being attracted to this plant – gulf fritillary caterpillars love them too! Passionflower is known as a host plant. This means that some species of caterpillars (in our case gulf fritillary, pictured below), or the life stage before butterflies or moths, use these plants as a source of food.
Now I know this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Since a host plant is a food source, you can anticipate caterpillars eating your host plants. For some people, this may trigger alarms. We have been trained to think that in order to garden the “right” way, we cannot have leaves that are anything but whole and any indication of an insect making your plants into lunch is not acceptable. I am here to tell you, that is not always the case.
If we want to enjoy butterflies, we have to grin and bear it until their rebellious (and hungry!) teenage years come to a close. It’s rough having to watch your plant be made into a meal, but the caterpillars have got to eat too. But if you’re patient, it will pay off and your garden will likely then play home to the adult form: gulf fritillary butterflies!
A lot of people quickly look at these and think they are monarchs. While they do share a resemblance, they are in fact a different type of butterfly.
Besides butterflies, Cheney also noticed hummingbirds visiting his gardens. Two plants in particular were a hot spot: cuphea (Cuphea ‘David Verity’) and cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit).
Cuphea ‘David Verity’ can be seen throughout the grounds at Brookgreen. It is a popular herbaceous perennial in our area and a major attractant to both butterflies and hummingbirds. The shape of the tubular flowers makes for easy access to the nectar within. The shape of the flower is important, as the hummingbirds beaks are long and narrow, while the butterflies make use of their proboscis (which pretty much looks like a big straw).
Cypress vine is another great selection for attracting hummingbirds (and, again more butterflies!). This twining vine is an annual in our area. It boasts attractive, red flowers that our winged friends just can’t seem to get enough of. You may be thinking, this looks nothing like a cypress, and you would be partially correct. While yes, as we noted, this is not a tree, but its foliage does resemble that of a cypress tree. Like cuphea, this vine has tubular flowers that are the perfect shape for hummingbirds and butterflies. However, before you run out and buy a bunch for your yard, keep in mind that it can proliferate by self seeding – and not always where you want it!
You never know what a trip to Brookgreen will turn up. While you can certainly expect to see a myriad of flowers, you never know what other critters you may find nestled within. Next time you come to visit, be sure to look closely, you don’t want to miss a thing!
See you in the gardens!