Make a Butterfly Everlasting

Dateline: March 13, 2012*

American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)
Providing larval host for this gal is important

Call a plant “Everlasting” and to me it conjures up visions of fluffy clouds and love in the air. Why then is the same plant commonly called “Cudweed”, which to me conjures up…well…VOMIT or SPIT! Ok, I’m sure that some farmers had livestock who didn’t necessarily have the best table manners. Then again, perhaps Everlasting was someone’s way of saying, “Heck, you can’t get rid of this stuff”.

Pennsylvania Everlasting is Not Native to Florida according to my source

This whole family of plants has me quite confuse since both Gnaphalium and Gamochaeta seem to be used interchangeably as the genus names. Here in Florida Pseudognaphalium also is thrown into the mix, although to me that appears to be COMPLETELY different, with the exception of those common names again. Since I am not a botanist, I won’t even attempt to clear things up.** For purposes of this article I will use Gamochaeta (although the first one seems easier to pronounce and spell).

Likely Pennsylvania Everlasting (Gamochaeta pensylvanica). A face only a mother could love.

The reason I am writing this article, which many of you may have already dosed off while reading, is in an effort to highlight the importance of not limiting your garden to only gorgeous cultivars or natives considered acceptable by the general public. Sometimes native Plain Jane’s (or even worse) hold wildlife species in the grip of their foliage. Everlasting (or Cudweed if you prefer) is not a particularly attractive plant, but I have given it an area at my place to grow freely.

You see, here in Florida (and I suppose elsewhere), Gamochaeta spp. is a larval host plant for the American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) which also seems to have some common name issues. Florida Museum of Natural History calls it American (Painted) Lady while bugguide.net and butterfliesandmoths.org use Painted Lady as the tag for V. cardui. This is why common names can be so frustrating…often based on what area of the country you hail from. At any rate, they are all members of Nymphalidae/Brush-Footed Butterfly family…everyone seems to agree on that. Adult food is almost exclusively flower nectar including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch. I’ll leave you to fill in your favorite Scientific Names for that long list.

Beauty in Motion, shown on Bidens Alba, an excellent nectar source

Getting back to the larval host issue. Pennsylvania Everlasting (or Cudweed) (G. pensylvanica) is considered a native to my state according to the USDA Plant Database. I use the University of South Florida Institute of Systematic Botany (ISB) Atlas of Florida Plants, as my source to determine nativity here in Florida. They don’t recognize G. pensylvanica as being native to our state. Delicate Everlasting (G. falcata) IS considered native by both authorities although ISB states that G. falcata is an excluded name “Misapplied to G. antillana“. OY!  Can’t we all get along and on the same page?**

Likely Delicate Everlasting (Gamochaeta antillana) a Florida native cudweed

These two Everlastings I have in my garden have pretty silvery foliage and somewhat ugly flowers (sorry, plants), but prior to last year when I allowed them to grow, I had never seen an American Lady Butterfly. These butterflies fly low to the ground and seem to like to perch on my mulch pile. I can now fondly recall chasing after said butterfly in September 2010 to find out what that pretty little fluttering thing, with a hint of pink, was. Needless to say, my research led me to find out the larval host plant is…gasp…Cudweed. At the time that plant was in relatively short supply since I pulled it out to keep the yard looking “tidy” but not being too dedicated to weed pulling, probably some slipped through (actually, a LOT). Last year I allowed a whole area to grow where it naturally couples with plantain (Plantago spp.), another unwanted Plain Jane that is a larval host for the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). Bet those popular plants are snootily looking down their stigmas.

I am better than half century old and haven’t seen an American Lady Butterfly in several dog’s ages since I was a little girl. That was right around the time when subdivisions evolved and green plots of lawns became the acceptable garden. Thank goodness we have realized the error of our ways (or at least some of us have) before we drive these beautiful butterflies to threatened status or even extinction. Although some “weeds” (and I use that term with only the utmost respect and love) may rapidly spread due to their ability to produce copious amounts of seeds, they are easily hand pulled (or use a ”Weed Hound” tool). Besides, they don’t really survive all that long, at least not in Florida. They provide for the butterflies as well as birds, rabbits and others and eventually die back and disappear to return nutrients to the soil.

Closeup of flower

It’s time to think about the wildlife and less about aesthetics in a garden. Make a little room not only for the good, but, yes, the ugly. You might be surprised what beauty it brings.

Another native cudweed I’ve discovered in my garden since the initial publication of this article.

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

**Since writing this article I learned that botanists don’t always agree on certain things including naming conventions. For consistency, I use the Institute of Systematic Botany’s Atlas of Florida Plants as the authority for all my naming conventions and to determine nativity to the State of Florida. Another source of accepted names for the U.S. is Integrated Taxonomic Information System:

“The ITIS is the result of a partnership of federal agencies formed to satisfy their mutual needs for scientifically credible taxonomic information.”

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