Tag Archives: butterflies

It’s National Pollinator Week!

National Pollinator Week was started by the Pollinator Partnership and approved and designated by the U.S. Senate 15 years ago. It’s a celebration of pollinators and what they do for us. It’s also a time to raise awareness about pollinators and their declining populations. If you love nature, gardening, and pollinators, it’s a wonderful week to get involved.

Butterfly on flower (pollinator week)Fun Facts About Pollinators

  • There are about 350,000 species of pollinators worldwide. These species include birds, butterflies, bees, flies, bats, moths, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and even lizards!
  • Native pollinators, especially bees, are estimated to contribute $3 billion to the value of crop pollination in the U.S..
  • The southeastern blueberry bee is an excellent example of the importance of native pollinators. In her few weeks as an adult, a single female bee visits about 50,000 blueberry flowers, resulting in over 6,000 marketable blueberries worth about $75.
  • There are approximately 4,000 native bee species in the United States, 10% of which have not been named or described.
  • About 20%-45% of native bees are pollen specialists, meaning they use only pollen from one plant species (or genus). They often do a better job with these plants than non-specialized species. 
  • Most plants, more than 70 percent of species, depend on pollinators for reproduction.
  • Pollinator decline has been reported on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Estimates showed that wild bees declined 23 percent across the United States between 2008 and 2013. 
  • There are several factors causing pollinator decline, including diseases and pathogens, conversion of natural habitats to row crops, pesticide use, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

Identifying Pollinators

From moths to bumblees, identifying specific species of polliantors, particularly insects, can be challenging. Today, there are many apps that can help along with some quality guidebooks like Common Bees of Eastern North America by Olivia J. Messinger Carril and Joseph S. Wilson. 

Another great resource is iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows you to share observations and get confirmed identifications from other naturalists.

2023 National Pollinator Week

The 2023 National Pollinator Week is focused on the connection between pollinator decline and climate change. They now face increased disease pressure, food source and habitat loss, rising temperatures, and more frequent natural disasters, all of which have impacted their ability to survive.

Bee on Jewels of Opar (pollinator week)How Do I Get Involved with Pollinator Week?

  • Find Pollinator Week activities in your area or add your own activities to the map and invite others to join in. 
  • Build an insect hotel or native bee house. 
  • Plan or start a pollinator garden.
  • Share information about pollinators on social media.
  • Host a native plant and seed sale or exchange. 
  • Watch or screen a pollinator documentary. 
  • Eliminate pesticide usage in your garden. 
  • Write to local, state, or federal officials and encourage them to take climate change and the plight of pollinators seriously.
  • Turn more of your lawn into garden or native plantings. 

Ideally, we think about pollinators and do right by them every day. However, Pollinator Week is a good time to reflect on our current practices and encourage others to do so as well. It can be as simple as talking about pollinators with your family and friends or sharing some native seeds with a neighbor, or as involved as campaigning for systematic changes in your state or community. 

A Beginners Guide to Pollination

Gardeners often talk about the importance of bees and butterflies. While these pollinators are important, there are other aspects of pollination that are sometimes overlooked. Learning about the process of pollination can help gardeners produce more food and save seed successfully.

How Does Pollination Work?

Pollination occurs when the pollen, a powder containing male reproductive cells, is transferred from one flower’s anthers to another flower’s stigma. As plants can’t make this transfer themselves, they rely on outside forces to move the pollen. Pollination can occur in several ways.

Is Pollination Necessary?

Pollination is necessary for all plants to produce seed. Certain vegetables also require pollination to produce a yield. These include fruiting crops such as tomatoes, squash, beans, and corn. Root and leaf crops like beets and lettuce don’t require pollination to produce a yield but still need to be pollinated to produce seed.

Insect & Animal Pollination

When we think of pollinators, we typically think about bees and butterflies. In reality, various insects and animals pollinate plants, including moths, flies, wasps, birds, and even bats!

Pollination isn’t intentional on the part of the animals or insects. These creatures accidentally transfer pollen from one flower to another while harvesting pollen, nectar, or both.

Bees are considered some of the best pollinators of food crops. Their bodies are covered with bristly hairs which collect pollen electrostatically. The pollen rubs off on other flowers as they continue to collect it. Some native bees, like the Southeastern Blueberry Bee, also specialize in specific plants and do a better job at pollination than other species.

Wind & Water

Wind pollinated crops produce billions of super light pollen grains that are easily carried by the wind. They typically have feathery stigmas to help catch wind-borne pollen. These crops include most grains like corn, barley, wheat, and oats. Many nut trees are also wind-pollinated. 

In our Corn Growing Guide, you may have noticed that it says to plant corn in blocks at least five rows wide for good pollination and well-filled ears. As corn by wind-pollinated, it has a much better chance of being pollinated in larger block plantings than if you plant a row or two.

You may occasionally notice insect pollinators visiting these crops. Bees and other insects may gather pollen but are generally ineffective at pollination.

Water pollination is rare but there are a few species of aquatic plants that rely on pollen transfer through water. 


Why would humans need to pollinate crops? Hand-pollination is typically done when natural pollination is either lacking or undesirable. 

The most well-known example of hand pollination being necessary is vanilla. The vanilla orchid, which is native to Mexico, is pollinated by a specific species of wild bees. Vanilla crops grown in other locations such as Madagascar have to be hand-pollinated because natural pollinators don’t exist.

Natural pollination may be undesirable when breeding plants or avoiding cross-pollination. When trying to breed a new variety or create a specific hybrid, gardeners may rely on hand pollination. You can also use hand-pollination to keep plants from cross-pollinating if you don’t have the space to separate them the necessary distance. Bagging or covering and hand-pollinating flowers will keep your varieties pure.

Hand pollination is simple to do. You need to identify the flower’s anthers and use a cotton swab or small brush like a paintbrush to move pollen to another flower’s anthers.

Keeping these pollination facts in mind can help ensure your garden is a success.

5 Butterflies Found in the Mid-Atlantic & What to Plant for Them

By now many have heard about and understand the plight of the Monarch butterfly. Over the last few decades, their numbers have been steadily declining as they face food and habitat loss as well as pesticide exposure. Though they’re certainly a deserving and beloved species (plant milkweed!), Monarchs aren’t the only insect or even butterfly that’s struggling. Here are five slightly lesser known butterflies found in the Mid-Atlantic and what you can plant this year to help them.

Photograph of an American Copper from Mass Audubon

American Copper Lycaena phlaeas americana

The American Copper’s is a fairly common butterfly though anecdotally it is seen less frequently today than in the past. These butterflies are orange and grey with black spots.

American Copper caterpillars preferred larval host plant (the plant where a butterfly lays eggs and is eaten by caterpillars) is Sheep Sorrel though it will use curly dock. Leaving sheep sorrel and curly dock available is important for their survival. As adults American Copper butterflies will feed on a wide variety of available flowers.   

Photograph of a Black Swallowtail from Mass Audubon

Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes

Commonly mistaken for other swallowtails this mostly black butterfly can be distinguished from other species by the black center on the orange spot on the inside corner of their hindwing. 

If you love the black swallowtail you may have to be willing to share a few of your crops. Black Swallowtail caterpillars will feed on carrots, dill, fennel, and parsley. As adults black swallowtails will feed on a variety of flowers. Like many other butterflies, they are particularly attracted to species such as milkweed, thistle, and clovers.

Photograph of a Common Sootywing from Mass Audubon

Common Sootywing Pholisora catullus

This butterfly can be identified by its glossy black (sometimes dark brown) appearance and the double rows of white dots prominent on the outer margins of the upper forewings. 

The Sootywing’s favorite host plants are lambsquarters, amaranth, and cockscomb (celosia). Adding some of these to your garden or in the case of lambs quarters simply letting them grow can help this butterfly thrive in your yard. Adult Common Sootywings can be found feeding on dogbane, common milkweed, purple loosestrife, and wild indigo. 

Photograph of a Long-tailed Skipper from Mass Audubon

Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus

The Long-tailed Skipper gets its name from the long tails on its hindwings. It can also be identified by its iridescent blue-green head, thorax, and basal areas of both wings. 

This species of caterpillars feed on legumes, including cultivated varieties. Legumes include all sorts of beans and peas, alfalfa, clovers, and wisteria. Many of these species also happen to be really easy to grow. In their butterfly stage, they will feed on a variety of flowers. 

Photograph of an Orange Sulfur from Mass Audubon

Orange Sulfur Colias eurytheme

The Orange Sulfur can be identified by yellow-orange to darker orange upper wing surfaces.

Like the Long-tailed Skipper, Orange Sulfur Caterpillars feed on legumes. However, Orange Sulfurs have a strong preference for alfalfa earning them their nickname the alfalfa butterfly. As adults, they aren’t selective about which type of flowers they feed on.

Additional Tips

A few great flowers for many butterflies include:

The most important consideration with flowers is providing blooms throughout the season. Plant successions and choose flowers with a variety of bloom times from early to late. Choosing native plant varieties can also help butterflies succeed.  Check out our Welcome-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection.

Avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible. Even certified organic pesticides can affect more than the targeted species. Especially if you live in a dry area consider adding a water feature for butterflies and other pollinators to drink from. 

These are just a small fraction of the Mid-Atlantic’s native butterflies. If you’d like to help butterflies and other pollinators consider some of these tips as your planning and working in your garden this season.