Monday, July 27, 2015

Monarda Returns

It’s been a few years since Monarda fistulosa has bloomed so prolifically in this opening at Blue Jay Barrens.  Something about the environmental conditions during the winter or spring of 2011 caused a massive die-off of Monarda plants in this patch. 

During the past few years, Monarda has returned and is now approaching its earlier abundance.  With the return of the plants comes a return of the butterflies.   Monarda attracts a variety of pollinator species, with large butterflies being the most notable.

At the small end of the size scale is the Silver-spotted Skipper.  Smaller butterflies, which includes the other skippers and many butterfly species, seem to find the Monarda flower head difficult to handle.  As if in celebration of the return of the Monarda, Silver-spotted Skippers are around in record numbers this year.

The showiest of the butterfly visitors are the Swallowtail species.  This is the Spicebush Swallowtail.  Its habit of constantly fluttering its wings while feeding makes it difficult to photograph.

Blooming of Monarda seems to coincide with the emergence of the summer brood of Tiger Swallowtails.  Summer brood individuals are typically larger than those found earlier in the year and they are quite showy as they glide between Monarda blooms.  There are those that exhibit the typical yellow coloration and …

… others that are colored a silky black.  Despite their black coloration, the tiger stripes still show through.
I found it interesting that the swallowtails all seemed to feed while hanging from the side of the flower head.

Great Spangled Fritillaries, however, tended to do their feeding while perched atop the flowers. 

The Monardas have even attracted a few Giant Swallowtails.  The Giant Swallowtails quickly move from flower to flower, spending so little time nectaring that I sometimes wonder if the act is even beneficial.  Finding them at flowers is about the only way to get a decent look at these fast fliers.

The Monarda is most famous as an attractor of Clearwing Sphinx Moths.  Using their front legs as anchors, Hummingbird Clearwings hover next to the flower as they draw nectar.  This species is currently outnumbering butterflies in the Monarda patch.

A few Snowberry Clearwings are also present this year.  Slightly smaller than the Hummingbird Clearwings, the Snowberries feed in a similar manner.  This is a species that I don’t often see here.

The Monarda’s attractiveness is not diminished by darkness.  A variety of moth species visit the flowers through the night.  The lack of multiple examples of nocturnal visitors more accurately reflects the photographer’s skills than it does the true number of night-time pollinators.


  1. Great documentation! We love all these blooms! The monarda at our place (and so many others) is putting on quite a show this year too.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I really missed these flowers when they vanished. I'm glad they're back.

  2. I am so jealous of your butterflies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hi, Renee. We'll have to get some butterfly plants going in your yard.