One of the teeniest butterflies you’ll see at this time of year is the Spring Azure, with a wing to wing span of less than one inch. Found in meadows, fields, gardens, and along the forest edge, the celestial blue flakes pause to drink nectar from clover, Quaker Ladies, crabapples, dandelions, and whatever tiny floret strikes her fancy.
You can find the Azures flitting about Crabapple blossoms.
Native wildflowers Quaker Ladies, also called Bluets, are an early season source of nectar for Azures.
If you’d like to attract these spring beauties to your garden, plant native flowering dogwood * (Cornus florida), blueberries, and viburnums; all three are caterpillar food plants of the beautiful Spring Azure Butterfly.
The female butterfly curls her abdomen around in a C-shape and deposits eggs amongst the yellow florets of the flowering dogwood. Pink or white, both are equally attractive to the Spring Azure.
Cornus florida ‘rubra’
*Only our native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is a caterpillar food plant for Azure butterflies. Don’t bother substituting the non-native Korean Dogwood, it won’t help the pollinators.
Native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) at Willowdale Estate Butterfly Garden
Currently I am working like mad on design projects, both creating new gardens and organizing existing gardens. Along with butterfly and pollinator gardens, I design many different types of gardens, including fragrant gardens, night gardens, children’s gardens, and seaside gardens. One of my favorite aspects of the design process is creating the horticultural master plan, which is typically done after discussing the clients needs, hopes, and aspirations for their garden, and created when working on the plan drawings.
While working on planting plans, I thought our GMG readers would benefit from suggested plantings and illustrated design tips. I started this series awhile back and called it Antennae for Design, and still like that name.
In designing gardens the first step is always creating the framework and trees comprise a major componenet in establishing the framework, or bones, of a garden. Trees provide a welcome sense of shelter with the shifting light and shadows filtering through the ever-changing ceiling. Fragrance, flowers, the shelter they provide, form, and texture of the leaves are not the only attributes of a tree garden. During the winter months there is the elegant beauty of pure line, the beauty of the branch.
For a multitude of reasons, one of my top choices when planting a tree-garden is our stunning native American dogwood (Cornus florida), both white and pink flowering forms. The fresh beauty of its spring blossoms, horizontal level branches, myriad pollinators attracted to the tiny florets, and the elegance of its bare limbs in winter are just some of the reasons why I love this tree! For a night garden especially, the white flower bracts are especially luminous in the moonlight. And, the American dogwood is also a larval food plant for the diminutive Spring Azure butterfly’s caterpillar!
Lecture Tuesday night, April 9, at 7:30 at the Manchester Community Center: Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden.
Cabbage White Butterflies Mating in the Native Flowering Dogwood Foliage
The lecture tonight is based on the book of the same name, which I wrote and illustrated. In it I reveal how to create the framework, a living tapestry of flora, fauna, and fragrance that establishes the soul of the garden. Using a selection of plant material that eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides, and guided by the plants forms, hues, and horticultural demands, we discuss how to create a succession of blooms from April through November. This presentation is as much about how to visualize your garden, as it is about particular trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals. Illuminated with photographs, and citing poetry and quotations from Eastern and Western cultural influences, this presentation engages us with an artist’s eye while drawing from practical experience.
The Cecropia Moth, or Robin Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest moth found in North America, with a wingspan of up to six inches. He is perched on the foliage of our beautiful native Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia), one of several of the caterpillar’s food plants. You can tell that he is a male because he has large, feathery antennae, or plumos, the better for detecting scent hormones released by the female. This photo was taken in our garden in early June.
The Manchester Community Center is located at 40 Harbor Point, Manchester.
Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American dogwood (Cornus florida)? Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood never ceases to give pause for beauty given.
Cornus florida var. rubra
At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood, dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of neighboring tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.
Discouragingly, many dogwoods in our region are inflicted with the lethal dogwood anthracnose. I believe the problem is exacerbated by the vast majority of information regarding growing flowering dogwoods, which suggests planting in part shade, and does not differentiate between gardening in the north versus gardening in the Midwest or northern Florida for that matter. If one lives in warmer regions south of New England, yes, perhaps it is possible to grow a healthy C. florida in partial shade.
Dogwood anthracnose is caused by the aptly named fungus Discula destructiva. It will typically kill an untreated Cornus florida within two to three years. As we look to nature for an answer, the native flowering dogwoods growing in the fertile, moist, friable soil of the Northeastern woodlands, as understory trees, are the trees most affected by anthracnose. Cornus florida growing in an open, sunny location are far less afflicted. What we learn from this lesson is to choose a location that has good air circulation and full sun. What we know is that Discula destructiva requires high humidity for infection; therefore trees planted in mesic sites in the shade are more susceptible than trees growing in xeric sites.
Discula destructiva is a soil born disease. Dogwood trees inflicted with anthracnose will begin to show signs of infection by dying from the bottom up. The lower branches will become twiggy and will not flower or leaf-out. This is the opposite of what you may see if a tree is losing foliage along the upper branches because of drought stress, for example. A tree that is stressed from lack of water or nutrients will, generally speaking, begin to show signs of trouble from the top down.
Our lovely Cornus florida var. rubra (my second go around with this species; the first was killed by anthracnose) shows signs of drought stress every year, usually during the dog days of late summer. I place the hose at the base of the tree, allowing water to gently flow overnight (never wet the foliage of a dogwood). Visibly, the tree will perk up. Typically this will need to be done every few days, until the next soaking rain. Any tree that is stressed from lack of water is more susceptible to disease. Along with monitoring our tree for drought stress, and because we plant densely beneath the tree’s boughs, I have found these measures, thus far, have served to prevent an outbreak of anthracnose.
Note how beautifully grows this dogwood. Despite the rain-soaked droopy bracts, you can see its gorgeous overall form. The level branches grow horizontally and there are no bald, twiggy areas.
Cornus florida var. rubra Lynn Fells Parkway, Melrose, Massachusetts
bract – In botany, a bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.
The open florets (pea-green colored) and unopened buds are surrounded by the rose red-shaded bracts.