The tiger swallowtails have been busy, two or three at a time, in the flowers of Buddleia 'Ile de France,' and a number of medium-size reddish butterflies have been sailing about without landing. I don't know them well enough to identify them in flight.
And recently a cloud of silver-spotted skippers, 25 of them, were working over the perennial pea that grows on a bank. Usually I see them only singly or in quite small groups.
Although we grow parsley, a favored plant of the black swallowtails, we have had none this year, though recently at the National Arboretum I saw several pipevine swallowtails (which I have never seen in my garden) in garden-variety verbena flowers.
No gardener dislikes butterflies, probably, and most of us are moderately enthusiastic about them. It's an agreeable thought that by planting at least a handful of the favorite plants of various butterflies we can help them in some small way. The mere fact that black swallowtails feed on one's carrots and parsley in larval stages does not ensure that the adult butterflies will hang about one's garden, of course. God gave them means to take off.
Still, if everybody grew a few butterfly plants there would undoubtedly be more butterflies in town. Now we are talking of building a 14-lane highway around the city, and almost within stone's throw of my place the small shops and modest offices have been demolished and tall buildings now replace them. All such nonsense is bad for butterflies, and sometimes I marvel there are any left.
I know some gardeners deplore the cabbage white, a butterfly imported from Europe to Quebec in 1860, and common through much of America by the 1880s. Its larvae feed on cabbages and not all vegetable gardeners approve. I generally notice it by mid-March.
While the study of butterflies, like anything else, can last a lifetime, a casual familiarity with these elegant beasts can be had through books. A handy one with flexible covers that fits easily in pants or jacket pocket is "Familiar Butterflies" in the Audubon Society Pocket Guides series (Alfred A. Knopf, New York). Another handy book is the softcover "The Butterfly Garden," by Mathew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, Boston) with notes on raising butterflies, among other agreeable topics. "Butterfly Gardening," recently issued by Xerces Society and the Smithsonian Institution (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco) includes three chapters by Miriam Rothschild, whose work with butterflies and wildflowers in England is well known, along with sections by other authorities. All three books discuss or at least list nectar plants visited by the insects on the wing as well as food plants of their larvae.
It is sometimes said by purists that only native plants should be used in gardens to attract butterflies, as they are the plants the butterflies have evolved with, while plants originally from Europe, Central America etc. are useless and (it is strongly hinted) probably immoral.
Which is nonsense. No American plant attracts butterflies as much as the buddleias from Asia. European thistles, parsley and dill make our native butterflies (some of them) swoon, and so do zinnias, petunias, marigolds, certain honeysuckles, day lilies and so on, not one of which is native to our shores. American butterflies have far more catholic tastes than many American entomologists and lepidopterists with a quirk for purity.
Among common kinds of plants readily grown in the capital and in much of the country are these, which will make your average butterfly sit up and bless you:
Abelia; yarrow (Achillea); butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); asters (especially recommended is A. frikartii); buddleias; valerian (Centranthus ruber); daisies in variety; cosmos in general; purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); joe-pye-weed and various species of its genus, Eupatorium); sunflowers in general; heliotropes, day lilies in general (not that I've ever seen butterflies sip at or eat day lilies, but they are known to do so, enthusiastically); lantanas; lavenders; gayfeather (Liatris spicata).
Privet (especially Ligustrum japonicum); honeysuckles (especially Lonicera japonica); mints in general; bee balm (Monarda didyma and others); flowering tobacco (Nicotiana species); petunias; phlox; rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis); coneflowers (Rudbeckia species); sedums (especially S. spectabile); goldenrods; marigolds and zinnias.
You will notice that only half of these are native plants. Look, if you're a butterfly fluttering about looking gorgeous, you'd better eat what you can find, and never mind where it comes from.