The first step in creating a Butterfly Circle is identifying the wild plants in the grass that host butterflies. We are working on a field guide to help teachers, students, parents, and nature lovers do just that! Here’s a sneak peek:
Marking their location is next. We use hot pink flags stamped with butterflies because we can’t help ourselves!
Now that you know where the plants are, you can figure out the best size and placement of the Circle.
You don’t really “need” any of these tools, other than the field guide to help you identify the plants. Although we have to admit our Butterfly Circle signs are gorgeous. They were designed by artist and graphic designer Melanie Oliva based on the gorgeous paintings Bound by Beauty commissioned by artist Kim Heise.
Tools and beautiful signs aside, it was great fun creating the Circle together with a group of people who want the best for our wonderful community. Many thanks to Mayor Sandra Harris for supporting this project, and to Village Manager Esmond Scott; Assistant Village Manager Tanya Wilson; Recreation Director Angie Dorney; Recreation Superintendent Jackie Villagran; Assistant Public Works Director Frank Ruiz; members of Bound by Beauty’s board, and of the Rebel Botanists’ Gang for coming out on a bright sunny day to help create a biodiverse and sustainable sanctuary for butterflies and other pollinators. How beautiful and important is that?
The Butterfly Circle may not look like much now, but as the wild plants within the circle begin to grow, unmolested by mowers and weed whackers, and begin to attract more and more butterflies and other important native insects, it will become a beautiful biodiverse sanctuary full of life, promise, and opportunities for education.
And we’re just getting started: stay tuned for more Butterfly Circles!
Many of us have seen the movie ‘Don’t Look Up’ and understand its message about the perils of ignoring climate change. Even if you haven’t seen it, you have likely heard about the terrible fires in Colorado, California and other parts of the west, or the flooding or the tornadoes or the high temperatures in the Arctic. And you are likely to have experienced out-of-the-ordinary weather in your neck of the woods. It’s awful, terrible, scary…right? And there’s nothing you can do about it…right?
We’re here to tell you that there is something you can do about it, and you can save money while helping save the world: you can compost your kitchen and yard waste trash instead of sending it off to the landfill. Composting is the natural process of breaking down organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can make your plants happy, fight climate change, reduce landfill waste and therefore greenhouse gases, and reduce the need for artificial fertilizer application on plants.
Renüable believes the whole world should aim to be more sustainable. And Bound by Beauty believes that what we do in our own backyards can make a world of difference in fighting climate change. So we teamed up to present a webinar on composting in which Xavier explains the ins and outs of about the process to help ensure its success.
Starting to compost, improving your composting operation, or joining a community composting program is a win all around for you, your garden, and the planet. Click on the link below to see Xavier's presentation. And thank you for wanting to be part of the solution!
I traded in my shoe addiction for Blue porterweed. Sort of. Let’s just say that with Covid-19, I cut way back on “that kind” of spending. In particular, my obsession with shoes has been placed on hold. Okay, who am I kidding, my obsession with shopping has been placed on hold all together. Once we went on lockdown, I went into survival mode and like many parents out there, I started to lose it for a bit. Most of us stopped sleeping, became compulsive organizers, bakers, and obsessed about how this would affect our children. After a month of angst on fumes, something had to give.
On my quest to find sanity outside my home of six and three furry babies, I found my garden or I should say, lack thereof. Thanks to a good friend, with the best of green thumbs, I started with cucumbers that never came to be. I watched every video on how to get those suckers to grow, tried everything, including hand-pollination. I am still laughing about that, but the matter of no bees in sight was far from funny. I became obsessed with bringing bees to my garden and eventually ran across a Bound by Beauty blog post that led me to beautiful butterflies and other essential pollinators. The connection was instant. Native plants like Blue porterweed, Scarlet Sage, Heliotropes, Lantanas, Shiny Leaf Wild Coffee, Ageratums and Scorpion Tails became my new therapeutic shopping spree. Endangered ones are a plus.
“My garden needed life and the silver lining of the pandemic allowed for plenty of dedication and obsession.”
I fell into another world, stripping me of my former “shopaholic” self. It was a call to transformation; and, with the same beautiful showy colors, and “cheeky” names, shopping for natives was an easy sell. My garden needed life and the silver lining of the pandemic allowed for plenty of dedication and obsession. 100% immersed in gardening chats, following every native plant and butterfly social page, watching and reading about the best butterfly garden practices, attending workshops, every detail I could find led the way and when applying the knowledge to my garden - it is so rewarding. Pretty funny considering a year ago, pre-Covid, I would not have been caught dead digging holes in the dirt, having face offs with slugs, hand pollinating flowers or out in the heat ruining the perfect blow dry. Now, all I do is incessantly pine for my garden - in Birkenstocks no less.
We have a small garden, but now it is filled with so much life you would never know it. I started with a safe collection of natives and before long it was a weekly purchase of babies. Some non-natives slipped in there too. I was hooked. The education is endless and watching the garden change little by little is magic. I did not plant anything in the ground right away. I gave them a chance to grow out a little, see if they were happy in their space. There were many things to consider, nectar plants, host plants, location, season, size…Every square foot of my garden had/has a plan. I was fortunate, our garden was pretty much a clean canvas. It was exciting to design, plan and let the plants settle to their new space. The anticipation built immediately and I was soon checking constantly. Is it possible to check one too many times?
Today, with a somewhat established garden, Monarchs, Zebras, Julias, Swallowtails, Sulphurs, Gulf Fritillary, Cassius Blues, and Skippers dwell in our garden. Everyday is an adventure for me and my family. It affords us all an escape, a connection with the nature under our noses. It is a gift, a much needed perspective and a top priority for us. It's funny: growing up I had no interest in gardening. Saturday mornings were declared lawn day at my house, with an 8 am wake up call that I dreaded. I would lie in bed and pray for rain under the covers. Nowadays, I cannot wait to get outside. How my father chuckles at the change!
Each morning the garden calls me to see what’s new. It’s always something .
One of the things I value most about gardens is that they are ever changing, allowing us all the chance to learn, evolve in our preferences, make mistakes and enjoy a ringside seat to nature. This courtyard has had so many evolutions over the years. At one time the fountain was flowing and it was filled with fish. And then the fish grew so that they were discovered and eaten by the local cats and raccoons. Next we grew water lettuce in each of the bowls and the frogs love that!
For the past few years, I’ve removed the water lettuce from the top two bowls to fill them with water for our bird friends. The frogs still inhabit the bottom bowl and they very efficiently eat any mosquito larvae. Water lettuce is classified as an invasive, but I appreciate it in this application because it’s contained and I love the velvety leaves. My journey as a gardener has been one of discovery through experience and education. The unique plants I collected many years ago have given way to a more urgent need to grow natives in an effort to help restore the environment and provide habitat for wildlife.
This trellis in the same courtyard has hosted maypop, corky stem passionvine, coral honeysuckle and now has been taken over by the blue pea vine. I miss all the zebra longwings and the gulf frittilaries that laid their eggs on both of the passionvines, but blue pea vine attracts birds, bees and skippers and the flowers are quite lovely.
I started planting corky stem passionvines along both perimeter fence lines for the zebras and gulfs a few years ago, hoping that planting among established vines and trees would give the caterpillars a better chance at survival, since they are more hidden than on this trellis. To some degree it has succeeded, but it’s much harder to watch the growth of the caterpillars and their emergence from their chrysalis.
One of my passions for many years has been growing orchids. In South Florida we are fortunate to enjoy such a long growing season. We are accustomed to seeing flowers bloom throughout the year. This is very rarely the case with orchids, except for a couple easy to grow varieties, here an oncidium - possibly Oncidium Ensatum, but I’m not positive. Although most orchids are epiphytic, this species can also ground in the ground.
This is the other constantly blooming orchid, a Brassavola Nodosa, commonly called Lady of the Night for the delicious scent it releases at sunset to attract the moth that pollinates it.
My orchid house provides habitat for lots of wildlife. I wish I had a photo of the hummingbirds that stake out their territory each day during the winter, but they are way too fast for my camera! Quite often the birds delight in chewing off the orchid roots because it seems to make the perfect nesting material. And this little frog is one of the many calling the orchid house home.
Dendrobium Lindleyi is one of my favorite orchids. It blooms like this once a year for about a month.
Below is an orchid commonly called a cowhorn, Cyrtopodium punctatum. It is native to Florida and some of Latin America, but endangered here now. It’s quite easy to grow once you have the pseudobulb and blooms once a year for about a month in the spring. Bees love it!
Vanilla orchids grow easily in South Florida. The flowers appear for just a few hours one day only. Unfortunately we do not have the bee here that pollinates the orchid, so growers are self-pollinating. We had so many vanilla flowers last year that I tried to self-pollinate, with very little success. There was only one vanilla bean at the end of the season! One more reason to concentrate efforts on growing native plants!
Giant swallowtails are frequent visitors to our key lime tree and wild lime trees. Unfortunately, the birds are not often fooled by the “bird poop” caterpillar defense. Hopefully the female lays enough eggs to increase the odds for this beautiful butterfly.
These soft cane dendrobiums are happily growing on a frangipani tree. They have the most delicious scent each morning. Unfortunately, they also appeal to the iguanas, who think they make a perfect breakfast!
Coonties grow easily in this section of the garden, attracting the gorgeous little atalas. I love this ancient cycad for its hardiness and ability to survive in almost any condition.
I’ve been growing zinnias for a while now, just for the monarchs. They especially love the orange flowers. As our climate continues to change more each year, all of nature needs our help and protection. Anything we can do to utilize more native plants, especially those that feed pollinators and birds or provide habit for wildlife is valuable. And the benefit for us is a journey rich in appreciation for what surrounds us.
Florida has a unique climate and there is so much to learn, believe me, it begs to be acknowledged. Not just in fauna and flora but in land and the Natives that steward it, the Tequestas, Seminole, Calusas, Miamis and Miccosukee. It also begs to be inclusive with all the people that came after and it needs to be accessible to all to appreciate. I want to acknowledge first and foremost, that this piece of land was the land of the Tequesta tribe, and the story of our garden in a way is to pay respects to them and mitigate the effects of poorly used land at all scales.
There is a funny thing to believing in sustainability that seeps through every part of your life, from food to materials you wear on your body, to what’s inside and outside of your home. I was very aware of this for years, before and after having kids, and living in small apartments. I was conscious about waste and had a growing green thumb. I started with my tiny compost bins and tiny balcony veggie garden with tomatoes, roses, peppers and herbs. And then it finally happened, we bought our home in Little Haiti with our first kid. After a couple of years living in this house I decided that decorative grass in my front yard was the most pointless perk of owning a home. The time I spent cutting grass on the weekends is wasted because no one, and nothing in this outdoor environment benefited from it. Absolutely no bees, no butterflies or birds could possibly benefit from this- and I gained nothing but a heck of a lot of grass allergies.
My front lawn started with a consultation from a man in native gardening that didn’t have much time to explain all my questions about what he was bringing to my yard. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better scenario because it caused me to do the research myself and learn on my own. My desire to learn about plants was amplified from container balcony plants to something short of a tiny forest. So here it began and the grass had to go. I had no patience in dealing with the removal or sheeting of the front yard so we agreed to smother it with about 6”-8” of height of mulch. There were no plants to remove except for a non-native clusia that similarly to grass, contributed absolutely nothing to its surroundings. So without much to consider, the entire front yard was covered (about 1600 sqft) with mulch. The kind of mulch we used was not the commercial one though, this one had not been sprayed with chemicals like most bags you’d find in Home Depot and the like. We got it from a local arborist that had enough chipped wood from his jobs and the consultant had it delivered to us. Now I learned that the arborists do it for free.
Then the planting started, we got the recommended plants from the consultant in addition to some that I had found in native nurseries like Silent Nursery and Veber’s Jungle Garden. Midsize plants were put in their respective places considering height vs. position of the sun to create more shade in some places than others. Areas of desired privacy were also considered and the denser plants were placed there. There’s so much I can say in detail about each of these plants if you ask me in person I can yap about it endlessly. I will mention however, our starring plant: powderpuff, or sunshine mimosa, a creeper that was meant to cover a good 80% of the yard replacing grass, staying low, resistant to pedestrians and most importantly, never needing to be cut. It grew marvelously in direct sun and once established it grows incessantly. The overall growth of the garden until this day has taken two years and for some people it seems like an unbearable sight and wait time. There was only mulch and tiny plants for the majority of the first year but the second year was incredibly rewarding, everything took off and bloomed. It was recommended to us to get even bigger plants at the beginning to skip the wait time barren visual, but this incremented our budget to 5x the cost. I didn’t mind the time it took to grow because I got to know every single plant in its small stage to full growth. Plus the garden was meant to go against all conventional, out of the box and cookie-cutter aspects of what a lawn is these days. Extra time to grow didn’t hurt anything.
The goal of the garden was to make it as sustainable and purposeful for the local fauna as possible. There would be no cutting, no irrigation, no fertilizing and no manicuring or leaf blowing of any kind And so, it has lived to that purpose until this day! Perhaps the only thing we maintain is adding truck loads of mulch (which we get for free) every 3 to 6 months. We joined the program of Connect to Protect and hold 5 native plants from them as well as 6 Florida-friendly trees from the 1Million Trees Project in order to increase canopy in areas like where we live. An additional aspect to the front garden was always a given to us, making it a wonderful space for our kids to explore. It did not become so necessary like it did in 2020’s pandemic. With so much time staying in, we explored every nook and cranny of this yard. There were so many new bugs, more visiting birds, new growth and more flowers in plants, interesting textures and we started to explore our options beyond having a pollinator-friendly garden.
I recently got certified in Permaculture with Earth Activist Training and I learned so much about soil, plant biodiversity, water harvesting, environmental impacts, social justice and more. All of which I wanted to apply to my already existing self-sustainable garden. Could I include food? The kids loved the small vegetable garden bed in the backyard but what if we could have more and include more different vegetables and even share? With more time outside I poked for spaces and found areas where a little key lime little could grow, some tomatoes could hangout near the firecracker bush and different kale varieties could snuggle in between the milkweed. And it worked! We got excited and decided to make an additional space for the kids to plant some herbs. Behold, the most permaculture thing anyone can do; an herb spiral. Here we have an eternal and massive sissoo spinach bush growing, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and different basil varieties. A few other things we incremented was the amount of rain barrels around the perimeter of the house. In one single day of steady heavy showers we collect about 250 gallons (more if we had more barrels!) of non-chlorinated water that our raised vegetable beds love. We also collect bags of leaves that people put out on their curbside to add to our compost or backyard and we also practice “chop-and drop” when a plant (specially palm trees) drop leaves or become hazardous and needs a chop, we simply cut and leave the cuttings or leaves on the ground or under a tree. “Produce No Waste” as Permaculture principle No.6 reminds us.
With this knowledge in my belt I have slowly begun to help our neighbors with mulch and sharing of plant cuttings from our garden. I have hosted online talks about composting with worms, finding pollinator friendly plants and offered drop-off compost options for the community near and far. Very recently I have started a forest school coop with a few moms and their kids in order to share the space and bounty. With lots of plans crushed during this pandemic I am focusing on learning more in detail about our local ecosystems and like I mentioned at the beginning with the land acknowledgement, there is so much we ought to learn and preserve. Even if it’s water! Because this land was never really ours, it is not ours to keep but we can make it right and better for our children. It has been nothing short of a heaven for our family to experience, learn and grow with our garden and I highly recommend anyone desiring to break out of the conventional lawn mold to do it!
This is the first in a series of Wildlife Garden Adventure posts. We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.
We had recently put down roots for the first time in several decades of moving all around the world. The garden I inherited was filled with what I would come to learn were travelers palms and invasive ferns. Problem was, I had no idea what to replace them with. I was paralyzed with indecision, and completely clueless as to what plants do well in South Florida's challenging environment, or even what kind of garden I wanted.
But those months of dithering and indecision and lack of progress paid off when my very patient landscaper brought me some milkweed, unbidden but very welcome with its cheerful yellow flowers. I was delighted when caterpillars appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started devouring the leaves. But I was completely unprepared for the magic that the process of metamorphosis would bring. The breathtaking encounter with the chrysalis convinced me then and there to turn my garden over to butterflies. That turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
I started with more milkweed planted next to our deck, along with a non-native firebush and some pentas -- both widely available and wonderful nectar plants. These plants attracted so many Monarchs that I could hardly keep up with demand.
As time passed and my Monarchs flourished, I began creating new planting beds in locations where I could sit in comfort and watch the butterfly action.
I realized as I added bed after bed, with grass pathways in between, that the pathways were like rivers winding through my garden, and the planting beds were like little islands. This gave my garden a lovely meandering feel. I ended up replacing some of the grass paths with mulched paths as there was too much foot traffic for the grass to survive. The paths mulched with leaves gives the feeling of wandering through a forest which I love. I added seating on some of the islands so I could observe my garden from various perspectives.
Over time, as I read more and learned more, I gradually began to plant mostly native plants for butterflies and other pollinators. Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home is a great place to begin if you want to learn more about the vital connection between native plants and native insects. And his book Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard makes it clear how each and every one of us can play a role in saving nature if we own even a little bit of land.
One of my favorite plants of all is passion vine, as it feeds the caterpillars of three beautiful butterfly species, the most interesting being the Zebra.
The passion vine brought in clouds of Zebras, a mesmerizing sight. In fact, one of those clouds of Zebras is responsible in part for the creation of Bound by Beauty.
An unsightly mess to be sure, but filled with transformative magic as the denuded vine was covered in chrysalises. One morning, I saw that a young woman in a car on the swale seemed to be having some trouble. I went up to the car and saw that she was weeping. I gently tapped on the window which she rolled down. I asked if there were anything I could do to help her. After a pause, she asked, "will you give me a hug?" I said of course, and hugged her when she got out of the car. I explained that my garden was right next to her car, and invited her to come in where I could give her some water and we could talk. She could hardly walk because she was crying so hard, explaining that she'd been on her way to "do something dark" after experiencing a body-blow betrayal from her boyfriend, but she had to stop the car when she could no longer see the road. I sat her down in one of the two chairs under that caterpillar-eaten awning, and told her to look up. I was watching her face when she looked up and saw a cloud of 20-30 Zebra butterflies fluttering overhead. Her expression went from grief stricken to awestruck in the blink of an eye. It was a remarkable paradigm shift in emotions.
What else can you think of that can transform grief to awe in an instant? It was witnessing this paradigm shift, along with other remarkable paradigm shifts in visitors to my garden who witnessed the process of metamorphosis, or the sight of clouds of butterflies. I realized that the need for a paradigm shift in thinking about climate change and sea level rise could perhaps be accomplished, at least in part, by the transformative power of butterflies and the process of metamorphosis, and thus did Bound by Beauty come into being.
I began this journey with zero knowledge. Despite having lived three years in Costa Rica with all of its amazing butterflies, it had never occurred to me to plant for butterflies until that fateful day when my landscaper showed up with milkweed. I have learned a tremendous amount in the seven years since then, mostly through trial and error, and through extensive reading and talking with those with more experience. Many of my plants have come from seeds, seedlings, and cuttings from friends' gardens, creating wonderful and meaningful connections between gardens and gardeners. And, even though I have lived all over the world and have had unforgettable experiences, I can truly say that this wildlife journey is the adventure of a lifetime.
If you have a little bit of land, please join those of us at Bound by Beauty by turning it over to native plants that attract wildlife. You will create a sanctuary filled with beauty and awe and magic and wonder, and you will inspire your neighbors to follow suit. Imagine what we can do when we join hands with our neighbors and connect our gardens to save the precious natural world upon which we all depend. You will be filled with joy on a daily basis.
Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate
A couple of years ago my dearest friend, Susan Howell, installed a butterfly garden in her front yard. While the idea was sound, I have to admit I also thought it was a bit peculiar. Then Susan walked me across the street to our friend Mary Benton’s house to show me what an established butterfly garden looks like and from that moment, I was enchanted.
Fast-forward about 9 months when Susan and I were exploring her garden, standing among dozens of winged butterflies, as we discussed my upcoming birthday when I casually mentioned that I would not mind having a few butterfly plants of my own. They would need to be in pots, however, because I live in a rented town house with a very small patio. Susan enthusiastically agreed.
Then on my birthday as we met for breakfast and dined on chicken n’ waffles and eggs benedict, Susan presented me with a gift of seed money, a coordinated contribution from 10 of our closest friends, to build my very own backyard butterfly garden. I was overwhelmed by the love and generosity of my friends and very excited as we hastened from the restaurant and made our way to Susan’s favorite nursery, an oasis of beautiful plant life that I had never seen before. She expertly hand selected every plant, astonishing me with her knowledge of plants and butterflies, host plants and nectar plants, caterpillars and chrysalis. I did not know if I would ever be able to grasp an understanding of it all.
We spent the day at my house, digging, planting, repotting and arranging. It was completely and utterly the most enjoyable and satisfying day I had spent in a long time.
Fast forward two years and I can tell you that my garden, still growing, has brought me unending joy. I can speak butterfly now! My small space seems much larger than it actually is, and I find some new wonder to marvel at almost every day.
Now I am rooting plants, repotting plants, introducing new plants… the garden has a life cycle all its own. I have seen hummingbirds and at least 4 species of butterflies including a brand-new visitor, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I cannot begin to describe how exciting that was, other than to say I Immediately purchased a wild lime tree to ensure that they will always return.
I could not have dreamed that I would create such a captivating garden in such a small space, but I did and you can and I am now and forevermore bound by its beauty.
Bound by Beauty note: We believe in the importance of planting as many native plants for wildlife as possible. However, that is often easier said than done. Few box stores and commercial nurseries offer native plants. It is nearly impossible to find native milkweed even in native nurseries in South Florida. However, we find that, as people educate themselves as they move through their butterfly journey, they gain an understanding of the importance of native plants. Since that wonderful butterfly birthday present, Lisa has gone on to plant a Wild lime (which grows into a tree but can be kept pruned), one of Florida's few native citrus plants, and Tropical sage, a native wildflower that attracts butterflies, bees, and birds.
Other native plants that attract butterflies and other wildlife that do well in containers include: Corkystem passionvine; Pineland lantana; Tickseed; Fogfruit; Gaillardia; Wild sage; Lignum vitae; Little strongback; Scorpiontail; and Pineland heliotrope. Please note that some of these grow into small trees which would require root pruning over time, and we recommend you look these plants up either on the the Florida Native Plant Society website or the Institute for Regional Conservation before buying them for your container garden to ensure they fit your site requirements. Once you do, and you've installed your own container garden, let the magic begin!
December 7, 2017
I love butterflies. Who doesn’t, right? But I never thought much about their night-time counterpart, the moth.
That was until the day that my husband discovered a flower that would change my outlook on moths entirely.
Up until then, I thought moths were okay. If butterflies are like your cool, world-travelling friend with the fabulous wardrobe, moths are like that friend’s old college roommate, Janet—who is a dentist and lives in the suburbs and wears a lot of brown. Janet is nice. She’s fine. But you never think to invite Janet to any parties. Janet is okay.
I knew that moths are pollinators, too and so, yes, also important. The how and why was fuzzy. I didn’t have for them anywhere near the awe and adoration I have for butterflies. Sorry, Janet.
So here’s what changed…I can be long-winded, so just settle in 😉.
A few months ago, my husband and I bought our first house. When we first went to see it, I thought the house itself was cute enough, but small and not at all the charming Old Spanish bungalow I had envisioned. Then we walked into the backyard…and found paradise. We fell in love with the lush canopy of fruit trees and swaying palms. And as we stood there, mesmerized by dappled sunlight and drunk off the breeze, we realized we already felt we were home.
We bought the little house from a man with kind eyes named Tom, who told us it had only ever been owned by his family and it’s where his mom lived until she died. Her name was Nadine. I learned from a neighbor later on that Nadine once had a beautiful garden that, sadly, became overgrown and eventually was mowed over when she was too old to care for it. I also learned that she loved to collect orchids and would plant them on the marvelously gnarled bottlebrush tree right outside what would become our bedroom window. Of course we noticed the orchid leaves hidden beneath and between ferns, air plants, and myriad invasives. But we had no idea when or if they’d ever bloom. We also had no idea how many there really were and how truly spectacular a show we would enjoy over the next few months.
One day, an orchid, one of Nadine’s Gifts—as I’ve affectionately started to call them—caught my husband’s eye and he called me out in a happy fluster as he’d done many times since we moved in. Nadine’s Gifts, we would learn, were resilient and neither neglect nor blade could defeat them—but that’s a tangent for another time.
On the bottlebrush tree my husband had found a pair of small white flowers, each about the width of a quarter—they looked like mini calla lilies. Neither of us had ever seen an orchid that looked like that before, so I submitted a photo to my plant ID group and hoped someone would know. And, of course, they did (they the bomb). Brassavola nosossa, Lady of the Night, she was called. Some furious Googlin’ later and I learned that she is fragrant, but only at night. It turns out, that’s when she gets nice and smelly in hopes some dark and handsome moth will come and give her a good pollinating (honey, don’t we all???).
We resolved to run out and catch the show at nightfall.
In the moonlight, the pale little flowers of the plant were brilliant against the dull bark of the tree. She was dazzling. We leaned in and inhaled expectantly. Jasmine? No, more gardenia…some citrus, maybe? But with a delicate musk and somehow melancholy...like losing yourself in a love song—by Adele.
There she was, a perfumed mistress calling to her lover in the darkness. Beautiful and in lonely waiting for her beloved moth-suitor to find her. (Super sexy, right???) Suddenly the night was gorgeous and mysterious, and an insatiable curiosity as vast as the stars welled up me: This is one flower calling out in the long dream of night…but what other wonders unfold when the kingdom of the sun retires? What other wanton winged-ones go around pollinating expectant petals? (Look, Janet! You are redeemed!)
Over the next few weeks (or so. Not sure how long. I don’t want to over-commit.) I’ll take you on an educational cabaret of the natural world’s night-time delights and its mysterious staffers: The Night Workers. The Moonlighters. Pollinators & Pistils: A Bed Time Story…I will work on the title of the series.
Next week (or thereabouts): Moths—Who is Janet & What is She Good For? (Also a work in progress. The writing will get better. Promise.)
Jen Llerena lives in Miami Springs with her four cats who she will often describe as terrible people, her beleaguered dog and her very patient husband. She likes to play outside with plants and butterflies and is sometimes socially awkward. But she’s a snappy dresser, so no one minds. Jen works in a field entirely unrelated to butterflies, but she makes up for that with wine. Oh, and she’s part of Bound by Beauty.
Bound by Beauty's roots extend north to Canada, where a Monarch butterfly is a precious jewel of nature:
I was asked to describe what the Monarch migration means to three generations of women in Canada for this delightful blog. I would not presume to speak for my daughter and my granddaughter; however, I am happy to share how I got into the nurturing of these beautiful creatures and what this means to me.
As I returned from a five year stay overseas, I found myself having to catch up with my daughter’s life. My month-long visits every year, couldn’t possibly disclose all the important changes in Gabrielle’s existence, mainly because, while I was away, she had had two children - boy and girl - and if that does not change a person’s mindset, I don’t know what does. In addition to having had two babies, Gabrielle, and family, had moved from the city of Toronto to a sub-rural area in Central Ontario and had developed an even stronger sense of responsibility vis-a-vis the planet and its dreadful current state. Ah, the importance of legacy!
So, upon my return, I was taught about all sorts of things, among them how many pollinators have become endangered; how the Monarch butterfly is an extraordinary pollinator, and how milkweed – a native wildflower of Ontario – had been almost eradicated because it is considered, by many, a ‘weed’. I also learned that the Monarch larvae only eats milkweed leaves before it turns into a chrysalis. It doesn’t take long to figure out Monarchs are very helpful to us, the human race, and that we had decided, for some silly notion, to get rid of the only food they eat in their larvae stage. Aside from the strain caused by humans, both milkweed and Monarchs are vulnerable to extreme temperatures, predators, parasites and diseases; so, as it is, only 10% of Monarch eggs and caterpillars survive and, in 2012-2013, the eastern Monarch butterfly population fell by 95% in Canada (read more about the threats facing Monarchs and their migration and how you can help in David Suzuki's blog http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2016/04/got-milkweed-monarchs-still-need-your-help/). Therefore, it is better to nurture them protected and to release them once they have emerged from the pupa.
Around the time of our move back to Canada four years ago, Gabrielle discovered she had some milkweed in her property and began to cultivate it; in all truth, it only needs to be left alone and it’ll propagate.
Three summers ago, I decided to emulate my daughter and I brought a little shoot to our place in Port Hope, Puerto Esperanza, as I call it. My neighbors are not that happy about that but… It is only this year that I have had plants important enough for the Monarchs to grace them with some eggs. I have to say I was overjoyed when, while working in the garden, I saw a lovely Monarch kiss the back of a milkweed leaf and leave an egg. Of course, no chance to get the phone for a photograph, just enjoy the moment.
It is not all fun, though; raising Monarchs requires attention, time and a bit of work. It can, also, be very stressful. To have an egg go dry, to lose a caterpillar or to see a butterfly not to be successful in filling its wings and flying away are painful experiences. The first time I lost a caterpillar I did not sleep all night wondering what I had done wrong. A dear friend asked me if I really cared that much; yes, I did. The most traumatic experience proved to be the one where a Monarch completed its cycle and could not fly. Oh my, my grandson and I could not bear the sight, so went somewhere else. Gabrielle and Michael, my son-in-law, were right beside the little thing saying words of encouragement and brought it an Echinacea flower to eat, it was useless. Gabrielle waited by its side until it died. We were all so sad, just remembering brings tears to my eyes, how silly, eh?
Albeit, I have to concentrate on the positive. This summer, my first raising Monarchs, I had 50% success. If one considers the survival rate in the wild, I did very well. This means a lot, it is important to do things to keep nature from collapsing around us. However, I have to admit I had a very selfish reason to start this raising butterflies business.
You see, I am also all about legacy and I want a close relationship with my grandchildren while I am here; furthermore, I want them to remember me and to remember the values we shared, the things we did together. My love of plants and nature, in general, was instilled in me by my grandmother. We used to work together for hours in her garden. Uvelina was her name and I still feel her presence.
My kiddies, as I call them, nurture Monarchs in their own home and in their Port Hope home. When they are here, we work in the garden and look for Monarchs’ eggs; we clean the boxes of the ones we have; we feed the caterpillars fresh milkweed leaves and we observe the whole process of metamorphosis, from a tiny egg into a gorgeous Monarch. It is wonderful to see how each change brings about a sense of wonder, it is heartwarming to see them look after the critters, and to listen to their very accurate scientific explanations about the butterflies no matter what stage they are at. It is a joy to observe how much they, and their parents, care and to be part of it.
Port Hope, Ontario
Strange noises from my glassed-in loggia pulled me out of a deep sleep. Normally, as I live in complete silence in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, only the wind, rain, or chirping of birds break the silence I deeply value. The former stone farmhouse my mother purchased in 1970, is over 650 years old. She chose it for its unique setting, simple beauty, and peacefulness. When I opened the creaking living room door, a flurry of wings and a blurred spot of color greeted my unfocused gaze. Somehow, during the night, a small bird had squeezed through a tiny aperture and become trapped. I cringed as it repeatedly flew straight into the glass panes, fluttered about perching for seconds on the windowsill or sought refuge on the old wooden beams high above my head. An impassioned photographer, I struggled with my initial instinct to open the outer door and the irresistible pull to dash inside for my camera. As the bright orange-throated creature had calmed down and was sitting quietly with its delicate talons clinging to the wooden sill, I slipped back into the house to grab my Nikon. Speaking in soothing tones to the little bird, I began to fire off shot after shot. After about 20 captures, it was time to release the wee fellow. Still talking to it, I snuck up behind and in one swift movement managed to gently cup its fragile body in my right hand. I briefly held it up to look into beady eyes, which betrayed no signs of panic though his heart was pulsating like 100 drums. Standing at the top of the stairs, I smiled as my new friend took flight, aiming for the highest branch of a great oak. The tiny patch of orange was barely visible, almost camouflaged by the protective mantle of autumn colors. I thought I heard a tiny chirp, but it could have been my imagination.
For those who want to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Tuscan countryside, this beautiful farmhouse is also available to rent.