A Plant for Butterflies

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I love a garden full of flowers, but that’s only half the story. A garden feels incomplete with just plants, no matter how pretty they are. We’ve set the stage. The background and props are in place. But where are the actors? That’s why I intentionally choose plants that attract birds and insects. (Rabbits? Not so much!) A summer day isn’t complete without the buzz of bees, the whirr of the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and especially fluttering butterflies—often as colorful as the flowers they visit.

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Captivating Cosmos

Cosmos_DBG_LAH_7489Do you enjoy big flowers with bright, showy colors and carefree maintenance? It’s hard to beat annuals for season-long impact. Whenever I think of annuals, I immediately think of cosmos, one of the very best annuals for Colorado gardens.

There are currently thought to be 36 species in the genus Cosmos, but the two most often grown in our gardens are C. bipinnatus (left) and C. sulphureus. (There are two other Cosmos species in cultivation. One is a frost-tender, tuberous perennial known as Chocolate Cosmos, C. atrosanguineus. The other is Cosmos parviflorus, a wildflower of the western United States.)

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Presenting Autumn, Starring Rabbitbrush!

Chrysothamnus nauseosus_Rabbitbrush_Cylindropuntia_Cholla_ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_2989-001With intense sulfur-yellow flowers covering its gray-green foliage, blooming Rabbitbrush demands to be noticed. In fact, the prairies of eastern Colorado are almost blanketed with it—something we never notice until it blooms. Interspersed with prickly cholla cactus and some perennial range grasses, it forms the essence of western landscapes. But it’s not just for the wide open spaces. Rabbitbrush is an excellent performer in the garden as well.

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Mid-Summer Abundance

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July is not the best time to go birding. The sweat drips from under your floppy hat and smears the view through your binos, and there’s a puddle soaking your shirt under your sling/backpack/fanny pack. It’s a challenge just carrying enough water to stay hydrated.

The birds aren’t cooperating, either. Most of the males have stopped singing now that they have their mates and their territories. Soon they’ll be molting out of their breeding plumage into something much duller and harder to identify. Some are already thinking about heading south, although they won’t actually leave town for a few more weeks.

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More Than Birds

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I went on a short hike the other day, and I almost didn’t bring my binoculars.

This is a pretty radical statement for an ardent birder to make, so let me explain. Even though the hike took place on property belonging to Audubon, our purpose was to look for wildflowers, not birds, and to create the beginnings of a plant checklist that would be added to in the following years. Specifically, my job was to photograph what we found.

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Birds—and Butterflies and Blooms, too!

aquilegia-caerulea_blue-columbine_emeraldvalley-co_lah_2992-revSummer birding can be somewhat unproductive, but that doesn’t mean you should stay home in front of the air conditioning. So what if the birds are busy nesting and raising young? Birds aren’t the only attraction in the great outdoors.

I recently took part in a field trip led by several naturalists. Among them, they had combined expertise in birds, butterflies, and blooms. What a great combination. When the birds were busy, we turned our binoculars on the colorful butterflies fluttering around us. When the butterflies were scarce, we  focused on the drifts of wildflowers along the trail. With so many fascinating subjects to examine, there wasn’t a dull moment to be had.

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Seeing Butterflies in Winter

paper-kite_butterflypavco_20100123_lah_7745Here in Colorado, January is a time of muted shades—tan grasses, soft yellow willows, maroon sedges, gray seedheads—and erratic weather. Highs in the 50s are immediately followed by snow or a sub-zero wind-chill. I was craving green leaves, bright colors, tropical humidity against my chapped skin. In the midst of suspended existence, I needed a fix of fecundity. So last Saturday, my husband and I paid a visit to the tropics. We drove to Broomfield, just west of Denver, home of the Butterfly Pavilion.

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