On Monday, January 11, 2016, Governor Chris Christie took action on legislation and signed bill S-939/A-2913 to designate the Black Swallowtail butterfly as the State Butterfly. No matter the politics, it’s a beautiful bug.
Cheers to members of the Garden Club of New Jersey, who pushed hard for the designation. Gardeners from all of the state took legislative action to create a bill in the New Jersey State Legislature to have the Black Swallowtail Butterfly designated as New Jersey’s Official State Butterfly. It just goes to show you that one should never mess with a person who plants flowers.
Why would a garden club care about butterflies? Insects, of course, benefit plants. They transfer pollen and ensure fruit and seed for the next generation. They help to maintain genetic diversity among plant populations, and help, through pollination, to provide one third of the food we eat. Without insects, there would be no gardens and hardly any food to eat.
In September 2013 members of the Garden Club of New Jersey supported a goal of educating fellow gardeners and the public about declining pollinator populations. Many local garden clubs formed Pollinator Project committees and featured pollinators and programs on butterflies and bees throughout the year to the public.
As a result, many people started growing host plants on their property for caterpillars, and planting species of flowers and shrubs that provided much needed nectar and pollen for both our butterflies and bees with an emphasis on native plants. People started cultivating their property with nectar rich plants including milkweed, butterfly bush, asters, bee balm, rose mallows, spicebush, lilacs, phlox, and coneflowers. These beautiful plants invite many butterflies.
But wait, there’s more to protecting pollinators than just planting a few flowers. People need to return much of their lawn to a state as close to “wild” as you can stand it.
Cultivate an open field habitat of clover, violets, thyme, and special food plants for butterfly larva, such as tulip trees, wild cherries, birch, and sassafras. Leave leaf litter undisturbed whenever possible, since many insects depend on it for shelter. Try to provide a shallow, muddy pond or puddle in a sunny spot. Many butterflies love to drink from small, calm bodies of water. Muddy waters are especially beneficial as the puddles help to provide butterflies with essential minerals and salts dissolved from the soil.
One more thing, you need to limit or even better do away with herbicides and pesticides in your meadow. This is a critical activity, as we are learning all the time about the negative impact many chemicals have on our environment and our own health.
Do all this and the next thing you know you are taking delight from the spectacular green, yellow, and black caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail enjoying the extra parsley you planted just for them. These large familiar butterflies are named for the distinctive tail-like projections on their hind wings.
By protecting natural habitats, creating and maintaining butterfly gardens, and monitoring butterfly populations, we can continue to protect and appreciate these delicate and well-adapted beauties in our urban-suburban environment. Everything depends on insects.
To view more pictures, video, or stories of wildlife around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, and Lower New York Bay, please visit my nature blog, NY Harbor Nature at http://www.nyharbornature.com