Look What Happens When You Grow Pearly Everlasting! Part 1
by Kristina Lefever
Most people have never seen a monarch butterfly eclosing (emerging) from its chrysalis, in large part because the western monarch is teetering on the brink of extinction, and has been sorely missed in the Rogue Valley landscape for a number of years. This year, we are super thrilled with the amazing increase of people looking for, finding, and sharing their sightings of both monarch butterflies and caterpillars, especially compared to last year! Not only are these butterflies an icon to pollinator lovers everywhere, the beauty of the transformation from the caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly is magical.
If you haven't seen it yet (or even if you have), enjoy this amazing and wondrous video shared by Vanessa Henson, a PPRV volunteer, who has supported almost 30 caterpillars in becoming butterflies this year!
However, too many other species of butterflies are also disappearing, especially in urban areas, in large part because their native "host plants" are disappearing as people change the landscape with both development (more concrete, anyone?) and so many non-native plants in their landscapes. The layperson's definition of a "host plant" is a plant the caterpillar must eat to survive and grow to become a butterfly.) Many butterflies are specialists like the monarch, meaning the caterpillar can eat only one, or a perhaps a few, species of plants. The plants must be native, because caterpillars evolved over the eons to eat only the plants they evolved with. So when host plants are missing from the landscape, the caterpillars that depend upon them will be missing too - no caterpillars .... no butterflies. The American Lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis, has 3 primary host plants: Pearly Everlasting, Cudweed, and Pussytoes. These are the only plant species on which the American Lady female butterfly will lay her eggs, because these she knows these are the only plants her baby ladies will eat. And we know for a fact that our native Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, is a favored host plant of the American Lady! Because, drum roll, please....we have lots of caterpillars in our Pearly Everlasting! We are so excited!
Thanks to Dr. David James for confirming the butterfly species in my 9/1/22 post in the Butterflies and Months of the PNW Facebook group!
This page from the excellent book Life History of Cascadia Butterflies (Dr. James is a co-editor, btw) shows the lifecycle and the beautiful adult.
This all started about a week ago, when we were dismayed to see the 'pest' damage on our seedlings we've growing for our plant sales. (Thanks to Deb Vroman for her sharp eyes!) But on closer inspection, we discovered this caterpillar!
Would you buy this plant??
Last year we were visited by the West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, a butterfly species that looks very similar to the American Lady.
But we were (are) not (yet) growing the host plants for the West Coast Lady, mallows and nettles, so she nectared for a while and moved on.
Not surprisingly, Pearly Everlasting, a lovely, very drought-tolerant perennial, has earned permanent planting status in our garden and nursery at The Pollination Place! We hope you will grow it, too - and we will all see American Lady butterflies! Learn more about the American and West Coast Ladys here. https://vanessa.ent.iastate.edu/some-basic-information-four-vanessa-butterfly-species-north-america