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Old 04-28-2013, 12:36 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by NEWisc View Post
I don't know of any nectar plant that the monarchs like more than Liatris ligulistylis.
I just love this thread. Chock full of fantastic info!

So now, NEWisc, I live in Mississippi. Liatris ligulistylis is not native here. What would be your recommendation for #1 nectar plant for monarchs here?
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Old 04-30-2013, 12:13 AM   #32
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Sorry for the delayed response, I've been working on a new consideration for butterfly gardens and I wanted to include it in this thread. But I'll get to that in a moment, first to your question.

I don't know if I can be much help on a special monarch nectar plant for Mississippi. I'm just not very familiar on the native plant species in the south. If I were living in Mississippi I would certainly try one of the other Liatris species that are native there.
PLANTS Profile for Liatris (blazing star) | USDA PLANTS

One good way to explore other possibilities for favorite nectar plants would be to find a natural area or a botanical garden with a large variety of native plants. A wide variety of blooming plants is essential to determine a favorite nectaring plant. I often see posts and articles about butterfly gardens where a specific plant is heralded as a favorite. But many of those posts and articles fail to mention if the butterflies had any other choices. A lot of butterflies gathered on one species of plant doesn't mean much if there are no other plants blooming at that time in that area. The more species of plants that are blooming the more likely that the one the butterflies are focusing on is a genuine favorite.

Plant nectar is not a uniform thing among different species of plants. Some are high in sugar, some are low; and there are certain amino acids and other substances that can be present in small but significant quantities in the nectar of some plants. So 'favorites' can be of biological significance to the butterfly.

Which gives me a nice segue (sort of) into a new consideration for butterfly gardens. I started looking into this subject while perusing through my "A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Behavior and Future" book by Phil Schappert a few days ago. My brain went off on one of it's tangents when I read this:
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Males will often visit specific kinds of flowers or plants (that females show no apparent attraction to) for specific compounds that are found in the nectar or other secretions. Many male Danaines, including the monarch (Danaus plexippus; Nymphalidae) visit specific kinds of plants, often being attracted in large numbers to seemingly dead plants, to obtain compounds (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that are precursors for the pheromones they use to entice females to mate with them. Females can actually assess the ability of males to provide a large nuptial gift based on their odor!
That tangent in my brain was beginning to shape up something like this: provide pyrrolizidine alkaloids, males produce pheromones, more successful matings, more butterflies. So off I went in search of info; here's some of what I found:
Quote:
Abstract:
Various plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are visited by Lepidoptera, which congregate on dead stems, seeds, and foliage to feed. Most visitors to PA-plants belong to the nymphalid subfamilies Ithomiinae and Danainae and the moth families Ctenuchidae and Arctiidae. Ninety-six percent of ithomiines and danaines caught feeding at PA-plants are males which ingest alkaloids necessary for the production of PA-derived sex pheromones.
...
Preliminary observations of populations of Ithomiinae and Danaus reveal that the presence of naturally occurring PA-sources are a major factor in determining population distribution, abundance, and reproductive behavior. The evolution of PA-attraction is discussed with respect to the various roles PA's may play in the Lepidoptera ingesting them.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/envent/1975/00000004/00000003/art00025

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Why do Danaines feed at dry, dead plant stems?
The habit which butterflies have of feeding at dry, dead plant stalks is not confined to Danaines – it is also very common amongst Ithomiines, and not unknown amongst Satyrines and Nymphalines. I’ve even seen White Admirals doing it in Britain.

Only male butterflies indulge in this habit. The purpose is to acquire pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which in the case of Danaines and Ithomiines are chemically converted into pheromones. These are later disseminated via 'hair pencil' scales on the abdomen ( Danaines ) or wings ( Ithomiines ), to entice females into copulation.
http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Butterfly%20Facts%202.htm

The next step of course is determining which species of plants provide these pyrrolizidine alkaloids. So far I've only been able to nail down one native plant - sweetscented joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, formerly Eupatorium purpureum):
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=EUPU21
I've found references such as " ... found mostly in three botanical families, viz., Boraginaceae, Compositae, and Leguminosae." but that really isn't much help. Some species of the Cynoglossums and Heliotropiums do produce pyrrolizidine alkaloids, but I couldn't find any specific references to the species native to the U.S. The search goes on.

Two general points do emerge from this tangent that I'm exploring. One goal for a complete butterfly garden should be to include as many native plants as we can. It's quite likely that there are some plants that supply butterfly needs that we are unaware of.

The second point is that we might want to more seriously consider ignoring the 'human tidiness gene' that we humans seem to be afflicted with when it comes to our yards; especially for our butterfly gardens. Butterflies can't collect pyrrolizidine alkaloids from dead plant material if we keep picking it up.
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Last edited by NEWisc; 04-30-2013 at 01:57 AM. Reason: Added info
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Old 04-30-2013, 09:16 PM   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NEWisc View Post
I don't know if I can be much help on a special monarch nectar plant for Mississippi. I'm just not very familiar on the native plant species in the south. If I were living in Mississippi I would certainly try one of the other Liatris species that are native there.
Thanks for your response, NEWisc. I do have Liatris aspera, L. pycnostachya, and L. spicata. I was just wondering if you thought Liatris ligulistylis was better than all others, or perhaps it is most favored in your neck of the woods.


Quote:
The next step of course is determining which species of plants provide these pyrrolizidine alkaloids. So far I've only been able to nail down one native plant - sweetscented joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, formerly Eupatorium purpureum):
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=EUPU21
Oooo, more interesting things to think and read about!
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Old 04-30-2013, 10:26 PM   #34
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Liatris Ligulistylis is clearly a favorite in my neck of the woods. I also have several other Liatris species and there's really no comparison to how the monarchs are attracted to the L. ligulistylis. There are also many other species in bloom at the same time as the L. ligulistylis and the few visits to those plants by the monarchs are quite different. They linger on the L. ligulistyis for a long time; when I approach they leave but quickly return.

The other species of butterflies do not act the same way. They spend most of their time on other plants (purple coneflowers, monarda, yellow coneflowers, pale coneflowers, baptisia, native roses, etc.) and their visits are the typical 'have a drink' and move on to the next flower.
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Old 05-01-2013, 07:48 AM   #35
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Very interesting stuff NEWisc. I started reading about those alkaloids and found some really fascinating facts. Back in the day when I was working at a large organic farm they grew and used comfrey in the fields. Now everyone knows how toxic it can be due to those alkaloids. Interesting how the male monarchs use it to increase their pheromones. I did see that sweet joe pye weed contains them and also the Senecio/Packera genus. I think the ragwort would bloom too early for monarch visits though. Also a lot of plants in the Asteraceae family seems to attract monarchs which is probably why I see them on the aromatic asters in the fall.

I wonder what the difference is between L. ligulistylis and the rest of the Liatris species that attracts the monarchs so much more? That would be an interesting study.
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:00 AM   #36
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I also saw a lot of references to the Senecios, but no specific reference to any one species that is native to the U.S. Sorting out the Packera-Senecio name changes and relating them to earlier articles can be rather difficult too.

Bloom time may not be all that important with respect to gathering pyrrolizidine alkaloids. From what I've gathered so far the butterflies may be collecting it from dead or dying plant material as well as the possibility of getting it from the flowers.

Yes, I too would like to know why the monarchs are so attracted to L. ligulistylis. There is a tantalizingly similar butterfly<->plant relationship that is mentioned in Schappert's book:
Quote:
Some flowers and plants, like this flossflower, Eupatorium greggii (Compositae) being mobbed by a group of male queen butterflies, Danaus gilippus (Nymphalidae), are attractive not only for their nectar but because of their chemistry. This particular plant contains compounds that the male Queens will process into sex pheromones.
That quote refers to a photo in the book showing the butterflies on the plant. Unfortunately the book does not state a specific relationship for the monarch butterfly and a specific pyrrolizidine alkaloid producing plant.

Eupatorium greggii is now called Conoclinium greggii.
Name Search Results | USDA PLANTS

I know that they have a good rational for changing the scientific names of plants, but it can really be annoying. Even the multiple common names don't match up on this plant. Fortunately, most good plant websites list the scientific synonyms.
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Old 05-02-2013, 07:03 AM   #37
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I know that whole Senecio changed to Packera is annoying. Butterweed was changed from Senecio glabellus to Packera glabella. Golden ragwort was Senecio aureus and is now Packera aurea.

Anyway, all of them contain PAs. I saw P. glabella in particular mentioned in one of the articles. We have 6 of them native to KY. NatureServe lists 70 different native Packera and PLANTS lists 55. That's a lot of ragwort! If you do a search for Senecio the list gets even longer! At least NatureServe separates them.

The only explanation I could find on L. ligulistylis and monarchs had to do with a chemical compound in the flower, similar to your Eupatorium reference. Wouldn't it be nice to know what particular chemical compound that was? Someone should do some research and write a paper! Perhaps someone has but now that I'm not a student anymore I can't access scientific journals.

It's so easy to go off on a tangent like this buts it's so interesting to me.
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:26 PM   #38
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The idea of one kind of flower being a "butterfly magnet" is kind of nonsensical, because the different butterflies definitely have individual preferences. The shape and depth of the nectaries has a large effect, as well as the chemistry of the flowers. My various swallowtails all go to the deep flowers, my hairstreaks to the flatter ones.

The Packera might be good for providing the alkaloids, since even though the blooms are gone fairly early in the spring, it is alkaloids in the decaying stalks that the butterflies are attracted to.

I frequently see red spotted purples on my beautyberry bush, "licking" the leaves and stems, so I suspect it is providing something to them, PA or other.

Plant lots of different native plants, of different families, colors, bloom times, etc, and every butterfly will come to the buffet, not to mention the abundance of other pollinators.
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:27 PM   #39
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Which gives me a nice segue (sort of) into a new consideration for butterfly gardens. I started looking into this subject while perusing through my "A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Behavior and Future" book by Phil Schappert a few days ago. My brain went off on one of it's tangents when I read this:


NEWisc, is this book worth having?
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Old 05-02-2013, 01:24 PM   #40
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pawprint I guess this is a good place for these pixs

Native Host Plants for a Midwest Butterfly Garden-rhododendron.jpg.jpgThis first shot shows the Rhododendron Canescens pink, I see butterflies on these often.

Native Host Plants for a Midwest Butterfly Garden-rhododendron1.jpg.jpgA second pix, not much better than the first.

ww
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