Sleeping butterflies

A sleeping comma butterfly
A butterfly sleeping away the winter

I stumbled upon this sleeping butterfly while cleaning out an old pigsty.  It looks quite the worse for wear – covered in dust and slightly caught up in old spider webs – but hopefully, having made it this far through the winter months, it will survive and soon fly away.

Several species of UK butterflies try to survive the winter in their adult form. Of those, the most common are the comma, the peacock, the small tortoiseshell and the brimstone.

To learn more about how butterflies overwinter have a look at this page from the Butterfly Conservation website.

 

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Butterfly eggs

These are the eggs of the large white (the clump of yellowish eggs) and small white (the single whitish eggs to the left and right) butterflies. Both butterflies are known as cabbage whites.

These eggs have been laid on nasturtium leaves: they prefer cabbages and other brassicas, but nasturtiums are a firm favourite food plant of the cabbage whites too.

Eggs of the large white (Pieris brassicae) and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. And a tiny newly hatched large white caterpillar.
Eggs of the large white (Pieris brassicae) and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. And a tiny newly hatched large white caterpillar.

I gave up growing cabbages in the garden because controlling the caterpillars of these two species of white butterflies on them was impossible. Well, impossible without chemicals. And I took the decision that gardening at home, for me, is gardening for  fun and pleasure; it’s not about necessity or earning an income. So, if things won’t grow successfully without plant protection products, I don’t grow them.  It’s a very different story when you’re growing a crop to feed your family or earn an income: choices are much harder then.

The photo below was taken about a fortnight later: the caterpillars are literally eating themselves out of house and home!

Caterpillars of the large white butterfly decimating a nasturtium
Caterpillars of the large white butterfly decimating a nasturtium

Plants for butterflies: hemp agrimony

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) is one of the very best plants for attracting butterflies: even better than buddleia. Despite its name, it has nothing at all to do with cannabis or hemp.

Hemp agrimony flowers with red admiral and peacock butterflies.
Hemp agrimony flowers with red admiral and peacock butterflies.

Hemp agrimony is a hardy perennial that is native to the UK. Although seldom grown as a garden plant, it is certainly worth considering if you are planning a wildlife area in your garden.  It prefers soils that are moist a good deal of the time and quite a sunny position. Although it can be grown from seed, it is simpler and more reliable to divide a clump if you know somebody who has some they can share with you.

The flowers, a frothy mass of pale pinky-mauve appear in July and August – just in time for many butterflies. The dried flowers and leaves of hemp agrimony are sometimes used as an infusion which has a mildly cleansing and toning effect.

Not every white butterfly is bad!

If you grow cabbages, or any other brassicas, you probably don’t much like white butterflies. The large white (Pieris brassicae) and small white (Pieris rapae) are the so-called cabbage white butterflies. They do lay lots of eggs that hatch into voracious cabbage munching caterpillars.

However, their relative the green-veined white (Pieris napi), which looks very similar to them at first glance, won’t harm your cultivated cabbages and brassicas. Its caterpillars only like to eat the wild plants in the cabbage family.

Green veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) on choisya flowers - the strong vein markings on the underwing distinguish it from the "cabbage whites"
Green veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) on choisya flowers – the strong vein markings on the underwing distinguish it from the “cabbage whites”
Green veined white
Green veined white