Masks off, flowers open, butterflies hatching. Summer has arrived.
As I read the "no mow May" article, I applauded ways to help pollinators for the bees, birds and butterflies which are essential to and brighten our lives. It challenges our concept of the perfect lawn, an acquired value, but we need to do more to protect our future.
I remember hundreds of butterflies in my yard all summer in the 1940s in a small town in southern Wisconsin. The butterflies were part of the neighborhood and we children chased them with our homemade nets. We could then examine them in a jar with a few leaves and let them go the next day. Their beauty and variety challenged us to learn more.
We heard about an "old lady" called the "butterfly lady." She lived alone but sometimes would let a few of us into her house and the room where she had all the butterflies. Dozens of framed mounted displays of them were on every wall. There were jars where she would keep them and then kill them with a poison. She showed us how to pin them but even as I write this I am sad.
She gave us much information about the butterflies but my memory is tainted by the displays of dead and mounted ones. This was the method of collectors for hundreds of years, but the beauty of a butterfly is like a stained glass window fluttering in the sun, not hanging on a wall. I hope her collection is in a museum.
From her I learned the names and varieties -- monarchs, tiger swallowtails, viceroy, cabbage, red admiral, painted lady, red spotted purple and the spectacular moths -- lime green luna and polyphemus with the eyespots on the wings. We would see those on a screen in the evening, but I have not seen one of those moths in years. A 1994 Peterson Field Guide to butterflies was my only reference book until a year ago.
My updated book is "Raising Butterflies in the Garden," by Brenda Dziedzic. It is 300 pages of close-up photos, detailed information, where she lives, and her email. She lives in the Detroit area and I was going there to a grandson's wedding. I emailed her to see if several of us could visit her garden. She graciously invited us, and on a sunny day we drove to her house where she gave us a tour and talk for an hour.
Her backyard is small, but with glorious areas of flowers with narrow walkways and dozens of butterflies everywhere. She was excited to tell us about all the wildflowers and research she is doing. She has received many awards, including one from the U.S. House of Representatives.
Last August my daughter and I spent a week at a lake house in northern Wisconsin. One afternoon a small butterfly landed on my daughter's leg and stayed for half an hour. After she went in the house it came back and stayed on my leg for half an hour. My Peterson Guide identified it as a white admiral -- black with white bands on the wings. Peterson said it feeds on animal droppings and fermented fruit. We were appalled to think our legs taste like that. However, from our trip to Detroit and telling Brenda about this occurrence, she assured us it was absorbing salt from our legs for its long migration ahead.
Recently on a sunny Sunday a tiger swallowtail landed on my pink azalea bush. It spread its tiger-striped yellow wings to dry out, so I assumed it had just emerged from its chrysalis. I did get a photo of it. We both have started to emerge in the world.
Nurseries label the flowers that attract butterflies -- azalea, honeysuckle, lilac, joe-pye weed, phlox, milkweed (essential for a monarch), clover, violets, zinnias and more. Plant flowers, avoid pesticides, and we all can be avid observers of these stunning insects called butterflies.
Mary Amundsen, of Rochester, is a poet, tennis player, gardener and companion to her rescue dog Molly. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, firstname.lastname@example.org.