Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar & Adult
Photos by Ron Nuehring
Many of us, while idling in traffic, or walking through paved, polluted and overlooked places in our cities, have been surprised to find butterflies (sometimes as many as we find in our gardens). Most butterfly gardeners carefully design their gardens considering the aesthetic qualities of plants as well as their usefulness as host or nectar plants for butterflies. Although it may surprise us, it is clear that butterflies will not turn up their noses (or proboscises) when they find a weed next to a dumpster on either side of the tracks.
Once you begin to look for butterflies you begin to find them in overlooked spaces all around us. Unfortunately the delight we feel at discovering a tiny butterfly refuge in a road median is often replaced with the dismay of its destruction by a lawnmower. Our cities and towns are filled with “leftover” spaces between buildings, roads and parking lots that have little use to humans but which can serve as habitat islands supporting butterflies and other small wildlife such as birds. By converting these leftover spaces to intentionally designed and protected habitats and inviting nature back into our cities, we both increase our enjoyment of our cities and benefit butterflies and other wildlife.
Although many people would prefer a freshly mowed roadside to one that is populated with weeds and wildflowers, they might not protest a less tidy look knowing it is a butterfly garden or wildlife corridor. Local governments may also react favorably to the installation of ground covers, shrubs and trees which are beneficial to butterflies and other wildlife if they realize a cost-benefit. For example, costs associated with irrigation, maintenance, mowing, and fertilizer and pesticide application are reduced or removed from budgets if the plant selections are native.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the receptiveness of our local city government in South Miami Florida to these ideas and would love to hear the experiences and ideas of others. How might we advocate for butterflies in the urban or suburban environment? Chime in -- what's going on in your community that supports butterflies?