Beautiful violets are popping up all over our yards, and gardeners either love or hate them. I am a lover of violets. My love affair started when I learned they were the host plant to the fritillary butterfly. How could violets be a fritillary host plant? The timing of these butterflies and the blooming violets were so mismatched. This post is to try to explain how important violets are to the fritillary butterfly.
Violets are the only host plant for the fritillary butterfly.
During the past month millions of blue violets have been pulled out of gardens and lawns. It is unfortunate because the overwintering caterpillar of the fritillary butterfly is just climbing out of its winter leaf letter hiding place looking for violets to sustain their life cycle. The fritillary caterpillar will eat only one thing, its host plant—violets.
The fritillary caterpillars emerge out of the leaf litter where they have wintered, into a few weeks of munching on violets. The caterpillars eat at night so we don’t see them. Next, the caterpillar forms a secretive well-hidden chrysalis, and a few weeks later a beautiful fritillary will evolve from its chrysalis.
Fritillary on thistle
What do these beautiful butterflies’ nectar on? Not violets, but the fritillary’s preferred native nectar plants include milkweeds, Joe Pyes, native thistles, coneflowers, and wild bergamot (bee balm) Plant these native plants to keep the new butterflies in your yard!
After mating, the female fritillary looks for violets to lay her eggs on or near. These eggs grow into caterpillars that will overwinter in the leaf litter surrounding the violet. The caterpillar wakes up around the time the spring violets emerge and the cycle begins again.
I love the bee yards that are popping up in my neighborhood. Homeowners are getting the message that turf grass yards are food deserts for pollinators. Our bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and moths have been devastated by habitat loss and excess chemical use. We can all make a simple difference by planting a few plants for them.
As we celebrate World Bee Day make an effort to add some pollinator environment to your yard. Native plants are the best because they have deep roots and don’t need watering or chemicals. I don’t trust some plants from garden stores, I worry about what they could have been sprayed and treated with?? We don’t want to plant for bees and butterflies only to add more chemicals to their bodies! Shop garden shops that can answer your questions. Native plants should be chemical free. Everyday we have an impact on our community, make it positive.
The reading list below has good suggestions for bee lawns. Bee balm, wild geranium, culvers root, milkweed, cone flowers, asters, and Joe Pye weed are some of my favorites for attracting both bees and butterflies.