Butterflies Make Way to Garden

You could say my expectations for Gregg’s mist flower were way too high right from the start.

Butterflies Make Way to Garden

Hildegard Hingle planted the Gregg's mist flowers in April hoping to attract butterflies; they eventually showed up in August.

Also known as Palm-Leaf Mist Flower, this Texas native plant acts like a magnet for Queen butterflies, at least that’s what the friendly nursery employee told me back in April.

I had mentioned my plan to start a little butterfly garden in my backyard, and this particular plant, so he assured me, would attract butterflies galore: “Come July, you’ll be looking at an entire column of butterflies swirling around this flower,” he told me, as he carefully deposited the tiny, modest-looking plant into my cart. I couldn’t wait.

In two weeks, my butterfly garden – an oval 10-by-15-foot area surrounded by river rock – was beginning to take shape. There were two Mexican honeysuckle with bright orange flowers, two crimson-colored salvia, a pinkish penstemon, two trailing lantana (purple and white) and, of course, Gregg’s mist flower.

Every night I would go outside after dinner and water my plants, paying particular attention to the little mist flower, which, at this point, still looked more like a weed than an actual flower. All through May and June I patiently watched and waited as my plants took hold and firmly established themselves in the soil.

Finally, in early July, my mist flower started to take off, transforming itself within a few weeks into a nearly 2-foot-tall, bushy plant covered with brilliant clusters of lavender-blue flowers. I was thrilled. Any day now, so I thought, as I envisioned dozens of radiant butterflies descending upon my flower, spinning and swirling in a dizzying display of movement and colors. But nothing happened.

Although my garden didn’t lack visitors – there were ground squirrels and finches, lizards and doves, quail and hummingbirds – not a single butterfly showed up. I adopted the habit of scanning my garden multiple times a day, hoping to catch a glimpse of at least one of these delicate creatures, but to no avail.

As July faded into August, I grew more and more disappointed and was getting close to giving up on my butterflies altogether. And then, suddenly, everything changed.

It was a Wednesday morning – Aug. 11, to be exact – when I happened to glance outside. And there, right in front of me, gracefully sailing through the air were three Queen butterflies. I watched, mesmerized, as they slowly descended upon my mist flower, carefully attaching their fragile bodies to the plant’s lavender clusters. And there they stayed for the remainder of the day, only occasionally taking a short break to stretch their wings and fly little victory laps around their newly discovered treasure.

The next day I counted five, then six, and finally eight Queen butterflies, all dancing and tumbling through the air from morning until evening. They didn’t touch any of my other plants but settled exclusively on Gregg’s mist flower. Every now and then a hummingbird would try to sneak in and feed on the delicate blue flowers, only to be rebuffed instantly. This was clearly Queen territory, where no intruders would be tolerated.

One afternoon in late August, just as I was turning up the volume on my stereo to listen to some classical music, I caught a glimpse of my butterfly garden and couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Had some of the music drifted outside? Half a dozen butterflies seemed to be dancing to the strains of the “Blue Danube,” rising and falling, sailing and swirling through the air in perfect harmony with Strauss’ famous waltz. The dance of life, I thought, and I was glad to be a part of it as well.

Watching these fragile creatures whirl and tumble through the air, I couldn’t help but think of the butterfly effect: the idea that tiny changes in the atmosphere, such as a butterfly flapping its wings, could have far-reaching consequences, perhaps even give rise to a tornado halfway around the world. If this theory is correct, then my butterflies have taught me an important lesson: to tread lightly on this earth, to think carefully before I speak or act, because anything I say or do will inevitably affect those around me.

Did You Know

The best time to plant Gregg’s mist flower (Eupatorium greggii) is after any chance of frost is gone – about March 15 – and throughout the summer.


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