Where did the wildflowers go? It was the end of June, and we were making our annual pilgrimage along the trail through Emerald Valley, on the slopes of Pikes Peak. This time we weren’t just looking for birds, but for blooms and bugs as well—in fact, the birds were the least of our priorities. There were bugs, especially as the day warmed, and we saw some excellent birds, but where were the flowers?
Emerald Valley usually has a wide assortment of wildflower species, including many of my favorites—Colorado Columbine, Shooting Stars, various Penstemons, and three species of orchid. This year, columbines were in short supply, the only Shooting Stars were creekside in the moist soil, and I didn’t see a single clematis blossom.
Insects have a pretty crummy reputation. Not too many people are enamored with flies, roaches, or wasps. Yet, there are a few exceptions, such as ladybugs, honeybees (in the right setting), and of course, butterflies. Who doesn’t appreciate butterflies? We’re taken with their beauty, and we hope they’ll visit our gardens. Happily, there are a number of steps we gardeners can take to encourage these “flying flowers.” Creating a landscape that welcomes butterflies isn’t difficult, and it will appeal to people just as much as it does to the butterflies.
Most importantly, don’t spray insecticides in your yard. You’re trying to encourage butterflies and caterpillars, not kill them! If you do have a pest problem, make sure to identify the culprits before taking action. Sometimes spraying isn’t the best option. If you decide you need to apply a pesticide, use it selectively on the plants under attack. Don’t go wild with the sprayer.
Aliens have invaded Colorado. Once again, a non-native species has moved into our territory and established a thriving population. In this case, it’s the European Paper Wasp (left). You can read all about it at the Colorado State University Extension website.
In this case, having this new insect in town is a mixed blessing. Although they look a lot like a yellow-jacket, European Paper Wasps aren’t aggressive; they can sting, but they seldom do. On the down side, they’ve been known to go after the sweet juices of ripe fruit such as cherries, and pose a threat to the orchards on the Western Slope.
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.
Like an bejeweled flower, the butterfly fluttered around my garden, never stopping to rest, moving from blossom to blossom until it gently drifted over the fence. I love watching butterflies flutter by, but feeding their caterpillars is another matter. I don’t want to sacrifice any of my garden plants to hungry mandibles. In at least one case, at least, I’ve discovered a compromise.
Black Swallowtails are some of the most beautiful butterflies found in Colorado. They’re large and black with a double row of yellow spots delineating their wings, and sapphire-blue sequins at the base of their long, pointed tails. They’re the kind of butterfly that everyone oohs and aahs over. I’m no exception.