175 Square Feet

Today’s post is going to focus on our butterfly nectar garden out in front of the Nature Center.

This space was created back in 2003 and planted with native prairie species of wildflowers. Over time, the composition has changed a bit and other species of plants have made their home here as well. Currently, there are at least (but probably more) 30 different species of plants growing within this space. The garden only measures about 8 feet by 22 feet. Not a huge space. Also, it is not isolated. As you can see in the above picture, it connects to historic plantings near the Nature Center.

Here are a couple of pictures during its construction:

One of the plants included in the seed mix was Thin-leaved Coneflower, Rudbeckia triloba. For the first few years, this plant became one of the dominant plants in the garden.

Here is a closer look at the flower. It is a composite just like a daisy or purple coneflower and attracts lots of great bees, flies and other pollinators.

As other plants came into their own, a more balanced composition emerged.  There are wonderful flowers in the garden including Monarda sp., Purple Coneflower, False Sunflower, Orange Butterflyweed, Wild Petunia, Ironweed, and several Silphium sp. such as Whorled Rosinweed. The star of the the garden may be the Royal Cathcfly.

Does all of this bloom in profusion every year? Well, no. It depends on what the deer choose to eat each year. One year, they ate most of the Monarda. The past couple of years they’ve eaten much of the purple coneflowers and the cup plants. But, there are still plenty of things that boom and attract a wide variety of animal life….besides the deer.

All this diversity equals a diverse animal component. Let’s take a look at some of the really cool stuff we can find just in this 175 square feet of space.

A Daddy Long-legs delicately perches on top of the Bee Balm. While related to spiders this creature is not a spider himself. He only has one body part, is incapable of making silk, and does not possess venom.

Beetles can be pollinators too. This beetle is very small, only a few millimeters. I was not able to figure out what family this beetle belongs to. There were several out there. Beetles have chewing mouthparts and some feed on pollen and nectar. Not sure if this is the case with this particular beetle.

Flies can be effective pollinators. Many kinds of flies are bee and wasp mimics. This fly is in the family Sarcophagidae. This family has many different kinds of niches, but adults commonly feed on nectar and other sweet sources of food.

This little habitat created by these garden plantings not only provide food sources but supplies for nest building. The leaves on this grape vine have been heavily foraged by leaf-cutter bees. These solitary native bees cut nearly circular pieces of leaves to use in the construction of nest chambers for their young. 

Here is a classic scene – a native bumble bee foraging for nectar at the Monarda.

Other animals take advantage of the rich food supply for others and lay in wait to catch and eat them! This true bug is hiding well. He may get a good meal today.

This habitat also provides resting places for animals. There were several lightening bugs (actually beetles) just hanging out in the foliage.

Here is another cool fly. This is a flower fly belonging to the family Syrphidea. I believe this one is the common oblique syrphid, Allograpta obliqua. These flies feed on pollen and nectar as adults and are one of the most common kinds of flies that can be found on flowers.

Composite flowers such as this False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides make for excellent sources of pollen and nectar. Here we see the aforementioned unidentified beetle along with a native solitary bee.

Taking a rest and warming up in the sun, is this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly.

Here is a small short-winged grasshopper, family Acrididae, blending in oh so well with his surroundings.

This ambush bug, subfamily Phymantinae, will do just as his name says to catch food. This one is sitting on a fleabane flower.

Much more familiar to us are the colorful butterflies that visit flowers to drink nectar. Here is a fresh great spangled fritillary on the Monarda. These butterflies require violets as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Another common visitor to summer wildflowers is this silvery spotted skipper. One of the larger skippers this one is pretty easy to identify due to the large white or silvery spot on the hind wing. Look for caterpillars of this butterfly on locust and other legumes.

I hope you enjoyed this little foray in our nectar garden. I want you all to know that all the pictures of creatures were taken over just two days. I spent about an hour and a half total to find all these amazing creatures. Also, each and every one of the animals showcased here were actually in the confines of the nectar garden. So much diversity! As the garden continues to produce more flowers as the season progresses, there will be even more cool stuff to find in just 175 square feet of nature.

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