Butterfly Journal Part One

California Sister
This butterfly journal goes back a bit in time to summer before last when the above California Sister (Adelpha californica) showed up on my front doorstep. Somehow the arrival of this extraordinary butterfly marked a turning point in my attention, as up until then while I admired butterflies I knew little of them in actuality. And this would still be true. But I am learning. And this year, in particular, I am researching those that show up in my world. And I love it. Here are the few that I’ve been able to photograph and research a bit. Please join me in my explorations and we shall learn together!

Cabbage White
Apparently the most common butterfly in the country is the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) and frankly, though sympathetic to those trying to grow large patches of food, specifically those that serve as host plants to the poor Cabbage White (you probably know them: cabbage, obviously, cauliflower, mustards, kale, etc.), I find this simple small white butterfly one of the most charming visitors in my garden. Why? Because they dance and they dance with each other. The word “flutter” was designed perfectly for the Cabbage White. They move so quickly and so erratically, signaling to any would-be predators they are not worth the bother it would take to chase them down, that they are inordinately hard to photograph. After dozens of frames of out of focus butterflies I at last was able to catch the little girl [two spots; males have one] above for a split second on a stand of lavender. She even kindly afforded me two, bless her heart.

Cabbage White
And while you cannot see in this reduced size I will swear to you that in the first photo it appears that she is actually turning her head and sizing me up. I really think that’s what I’m witnessing and it’s quite amazing, actually, to think that might be true.

But about the dancing. What I find most enchanting about the Cabbage Whites is their habit that in encountering another of their kind they immediately engage in a frivolous circular dance around each other, tumbling through space for some few seconds, and then disengaging and going their own way. And they do it all day long. Now I’m certain those in the know would point out to me that this is some kind of male-female interaction that results in birds and bees activity, but to date I’ve only witnessed the joy of the dance and I’m going with that, for that is what I see. Over and over again. And it is beauty. I’ll take it.

Cabbage Whites made their way to America from Europe in about 1860. By 1883 they are recorded in California though apparently it’s not known if they were introduced by the Spanish from the South or if they made their way from New England.

A word to the Cabbage White trolls: I have borne witness to the fact it is possible to grow large quantities of a particular vegetable organically without dumping chemicals on butterflies. How much can they eat? Grow enough for them. Ditto in your own small gardens. Perhaps by introducing nasturtium or other host plants they would opt for that rather than your veges. Just sayin’. Chemicals designed for the Cabbage White take out other beloveds, too. Thank you!

Variable Checkerspot

Once the butterfly bushes opened their beautiful blossoms my garden began attracting the Variable (or Chalcedon) Checkerspot (Euphydras chalcedona) which I had never seen in this garden before. The one above, sadly, was missing one of its four wings. It flew about unminding and landed gently in my large rosemary bush, allowing me this side view. Perfect.

Variable Checkerspot
Happily, a second one came the next day, attracted to the butterfly bush.

Now firmly on their circuit, apparently, a third came and landed in a second butterfly bush and remained perfectly still for at least five minutes, allowing me this view. Notice this one is darker, but I have read there might be some variation in darkness.

Variable Checkerspot

Undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the butterflies who come to my garden are the Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) and, thankfully, they come daily in abundance. Here are some of my most special moments in their presence. Enjoy!

Western Tiger Swallowtail/See below!

Western Tiger Swallowtail/ditto

Western Tiger Swallowtail/yep

I loved this photo of the underside of just the tail of a Western Tiger Swallowtail. I find myself wondering about its evolutionary design, certain that to some possible predators that tail design would speak to something much larger and possibly more dangerous than the butterfly actually is. Smart!

There have been other butterflies in the garden, mostly skippers and blues. Can I manage yet to photograph them? No. Sadly. But I will rise to the occasion as I learn the nuances of learning to photograph them. I will. And I will share with you as I do.

Looking forward to your comments and hearing of your own butterfly experiences!

Love and winged blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Important July footnote on the above post, which apparently was not complete! The comment below from Evelyn had me second guessing whether I had correctly ID’d the Western Tiger Swallowtail. I’m now thinking I did not, for two reasons. First, this photo, which I took at least two years ago:

See? Much more yellow. As if this were not enough to convince me the one in my current post is actually a Pale Tiger Swallowtail, a very yellow Western Tiger Swallowtail showed up in my butterfly bush yesterday. She didn’t stay long enough for me to photograph, but I got the point, and thank you for that visit!

Oh, and to fully wrap up this post, at last, a large California Sister Butterfly fluttered through my front garden the other day, quickly exiting and I thought, “Bookends. Nice!”

Book News: Dig-It Magazine will be reviewing Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden in their September issue. This week I have been adding some new photos to the slide show at Estrella Catarina. Also, the Kindle version of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is now available on the German Amazon site! Link added on Estrella Catarina. Do stop by and enjoy! Thank you so much!

9/18/2014: This is for Robbin: Dance of the Tiger Swallowtails

18 Responses to “Butterfly Journal Part One”

  1. I recently discovered your website and just love it. I share the same passion as you do for the love of the garden and all the little flying visitors I get everyday. It just amazes me that the feelings and thoughts I get when I walk around my garden are expressed in your writing. I wish I can show you my photographs of the same 3 shots you have of the swallowtail atop the butterfly bush only my butterfly is more yellow, I guess that would be the eastern version. Nice to know that the little dancing white butterflies are called white cabbage. I’ll try to photograph them while they play in my garden. I think they like tomato flowers too.
    Thank you for putting my thoughts into beautiful words.

  2. Good morning, Evelyn, and welcome and thank you so very much for your very kind words! Glad you are enjoying the Swallowtails and Cabbage Whites in your garden! There is, btw, a Pale Tiger Swallowtail and I thought long and hard in IDing mine as Western, but further googling does confirm the Pale ones are nearly white, so for now I’ll stick with my conclusion. The Swallowtails seem somewhat varied. There’s also a Two Tailed Swallowtail! Thank you for your visit! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Lovely post, mom! You have described the dances so beautifully! I feel blessed to have an abundance of Swallowtails, and other varieties, in my yard. They’re wonderful to watch fluttering about.

    Love you,

  4. Hi, Antonia! Get out your camera! You will have a whole new appreciation through a lens! So glad you are surrounded by butterflies! Love you, Mom xoxo

  5. Hi, zeezee, and welcome! I would think that lavender would attract some butterflies, though you will most certainly get bees, too. Let’s see if any other readers have ideas! Good luck! Kathryn xoxo


  7. Hi, Rose, Enjoy those puzzles! Kathryn xoxo

  8. How lovely, dear Kathryn. I’m so enjoying my beautiful visitors … Happy Summer 🙂

    “Butterflies are self propelled flowers.” ~ R.H. Heinlein

  9. Hi, special lady Joey! Wondering what kind of butterflies you encounter in Michigan…The quote is lovely. Thank you! Kathryn xoxo

  10. Beautiful post!! Butterflies are special creatures that we need to help encourage their survival. Thanks for the post, love it.

  11. Hello, Delone and welcome! Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that you are also helping our beautiful butterflies to survive. So important! Kathryn xoxo

  12. I love these butterflies. Well the swallowtails are not common in our southern plains here but white cabbage is a common sight. I really enjoyed the post indeed, a source of pure joy.

  13. Welcome muhammad khabbab and thank you for your kind comment! Interesting to know the cabbage white made its way to Pakistan! Lovely blog. I’ve added your blog to my blogroll! Kathryn xoxo

  14. I have a long h istory with Monarch butterflies. We have collected the cata pillars from milk weed and enjoyed the miraculous transformation to butterfly often over the years . I did it as a child, my children, and my grandchildren have had the joy. God transforms us also and the butterfly is a beautiful metaphor.

  15. Hi, Alice, How absolutely lovely to have three generations in your family with this wonder-full practice of learning about the Monarch butterfly! Yes, metaphor, indeed. Nature is our best teacher. Kathryn xoxo

  16. Hi, Adnan, Here is the secret. You must find out what butterflies live in your locale. And THEN you must find out what their HOST plant is (where they lay their eggs!). If there’s no host plant (usually what’s been obliterated) they can’t make it. Meanwhile, yes, plant a butterfly bush. If there are healthy butterflies in your area (who still have access to their host plants) then I’m pretty darn sure your butterflies will come visit the butterfly bush. It made ALL the difference in my garden. I couldn’t believe the difference! They are here every day now! Good luck! Let me know! Kathryn xoxo

  17. Hi Kathryn,

    You have a lovely website which I discovered while on a “research trip” this morning. I am writing and illustrating a book “The Walnut Grove” and want to include a butterfly on my cover, but I couldn’t decide which one. When I was a little girl growing up in southern California in the 1950’s there were butterflies everywhere! The last time I saw a Tiger swallow tail was last December! Keep up the good work!

    I respect other’s copyrighted material and though I’m not copying anything of yours, but I’d be happy to include your name and site in my list of acknowledgements if that’s alright with you.

  18. Hi, Robbin Day, and welcome! Thank you for your kind words. I’d be honored to be included in your list of acknowledgments. And did you find a picture of your swallowtail? Let me know if you’d like to use one of mine. You are more than welcome to use with a mere credit. Also, I’m posting my swallowtail vid at the end of this post for your enjoyment. I filmed it last summer in my garden! Kathryn xoxo

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