The Gleaner

Leave the leaves for the butterflies and the bees

As much as hubby loves a good leaf blower, I think I’ve finally convinced him to leave the leaves. Ready to start the season off with a bang, in the past my guy would have donned his power tool and gotten an early start moving debris out from our gardens. I love a man in action, but the problem is, according to the David Suzuki Foundation’s website, “Those brown, dead leaves are the planet’s butterfly nursery. They’re home to butterfly larvae, microbes, and worms. And leaf litter is where many species of butterflies and moths overwinter as pupae. Animals like toads, shrews and salamanders benefit from leaf litter to hide and hunt, too.” So, this year, we’ve left the leaves and I was pleased to see our crocuses pop up right through the litter.

Like a reward, I saw my first two butterflies of the season on April 9. Noting their rich burgundy-brown wings edged with blue spots along yellow borders, I learned that they were Mourning Cloaks, often considered to be the first butterfly of spring as well as one of the longest-lived butterflies. Surprised to see them flying around just a few days after the freezing rain, I did a little research. It turns out, it’s not that they have already arrived from the south – they were here all winter! How amazing that those seemingly delicate creatures can survive an ice storm! But they can only do so if they have the habitat they need. The underside of their wings is mottled brown, a perfect camouflage in the leaves and tree bark where they hibernate through the winter.

Come spring, males perch in the afternoon sun to wait for receptive females. Eggs are laid in groups around twigs of host plants. Along with other trees, Mourning Cloak larvae feed on willows, so they should find some good eating here along the Rivière aux Outardes. The butterflies emerge from their pupae in mid- to late summer. After feeding briefly, adults go into a state of dormancy until the fall when they re-emerge to feed and store energy for hibernation. Awakening before the first flowers are in bloom, the butterflies find the protein they need to live such a long life by feeding on tree sap and even dung (which explains why the two I saw were fluttering around our dog pen and I couldn’t get a good photo).

The Mourning Cloak is just one example of a creature that relies on native plants and natural settings. Lesle-Ann Hine, who co-founded the Ormstown branch of the David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway Project last summer, will be present at the Earth Day Forum happening at the Ormstown Recreation Centre on Saturday, April 22. Visit her anytime between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to find out more about local native plants and the pollinators that rely on them.

Soon after the event, hubby and I will be adding more native plants to our yard. In the meantime, we’ll leave the leaf blower and rake in the shed – inspired by all the action of the birds and the bees around us, I can think of better things to do with our time than raking.

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