A rose by any other name

In mid April I watched a black swallowtail (a.k.a. eastern black swallowtail, American swallowtail or parsnip swallowtail; Papilio polyxenes) as it flitted through a clearing laden with white vervain (Verbena urticifolia).

A black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) feeding on white vervain (Verbena urticifolia) flowers (IMG_1382)

Not once did I get close to the butterfly, snapping photos for several minutes from some distance away, but even my remote view made clear the insect rather enjoyed the verbena flowers.

A black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) feeding on white vervain (Verbena urticifolia) flowers (IMG_1376)

By early May I noticed a similar plant flowering near the house, one easily viewed from the door, and all about this shorter plant—weather permitting of course—dozens of butterflies billowed and churned, dashing here and flying there, each vying for a position upon this rather ordinary looking plant, something most would consider a weed.

A variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) flowers (IMG_1929)

Variegated fritillaries (a.k.a. hortensia; Euptoieta claudia) abounded, as did a laundry list of butterflies both large and small, all drawn to Texas vervain (a.k.a. Texas verbena or slender verbena; Verbena halei).

A variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) flowers (IMG_1839)

From spring through summer right into autumn, the plant served as a lightning rod for butterflies, and this I pointed out to my family much to their profound enjoyment.

A dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (IMG_2753)

So long as the weather didn’t turn inclement, it was easy to find dainty sulphurs (a.k.a. dwarf yellow; Nathalis iole), North America’s smallest sulphur.

A larval pinion (Lithophane sp.) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04886)

And it was easy to find young and old alike, such as this larval pinion (Lithophane sp.), a butterfly in another form.

A Reakirt's blue (Echinargus isola) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04952)

It wasn’t at all unusual to find startling beauty just a few steps away, like this Reakirt’s blue (Echinargus isola).

A eufala skipper (Lerodea eufala) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04921)

Similarly, it wasn’t difficult to find subtle beauty like this eufala skipper (a.k.a. rice leaffolder; Lerodea eufala).

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04890)

Fiery skippers (Hylephila phyleus) remained plentiful—remain plentiful, I should say, for that photo was taken just the other day—going into mid November!

A beet webworm moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04883)

The plant doesn’t just accumulate butterflies though, as indicated by this beet webworm moth (a.k.a. Hawaiian beet webworm moth or spinach moth; Spoladea recurvalis).

A sphecid wasp (Prionyx parkeri) feeding on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (20121103_04897)

Like the moth, this sphecid wasp (Prionyx parkeri) shows how varied the host’s visitors are, from a plethora of bees and wasps to a small variety of flies to a few grasshopper species to moths and beyond, each joining dozens of butterflies each day to visit and enjoy the sweet nectar these flowers offer.

Close-up of blooms on Texas vervain (Verbena halei) (IMG_3147)

Everyone asked me when pointing out this verbena plant if it was in fact a butterfly bush.  Though this vervain grows only a foot or two high—hardly a bush—and though it’s not closely related to true butterfly bushes (Buddleja sp. [or Buddleia sp.]), it needn’t be called a butterfly bush in order to serve the same purpose, perhaps even to a superior degree.

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Other butterflies seen on this plant but not photographed (or, at least, not photographed well):

  • Gulf fritillary (a.k.a. passion butterfly; Agraulis vanillae)
  • common buckeye (Junonia coenia)
  • cabbage white (a.k.a. small white, small cabbage white or white butterfly; Pieris rapae)
  • question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
  • American snout (Libytheana carinenta)
  • sleepy orange (a.k.a. sleepy sulphur; Abaeis nicippe)
  • common checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis)
  • clouded skipper (Lerema accius)
  • funereal duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

3 thoughts on “A rose by any other name”

    1. Thanks, Scott! As for how long the plant has been in bloom, I’m just as surprised as you are. That it started in spring came as no surprise; that it lasted through summer struck me as somewhat unusual; that it’s STILL in bloom today leaves me awestruck. Obviously I need to learn a thing or two about vervain. (Off to the intarwebs to use some Google-fu …)

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