Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pollinators and Fruit, or Pears and Question Marks

I just posted on the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto's general blog an article on pears and the fungus disease that's whacked them in Toronto this year . But I saved this picture of the pears under our cottage trees for this blog.

Question Mark butterfly on pear - Clement Kent

click to see silver ? on the hindwing. Clement Kent

Some pears had fallen and were rotting. The Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationiswas feeding on the yeasty fluids; at other times of the year this butterfly and its closely related cousin, the Comma (Polygonia comma) can be found drinking from sap flows on tree trunks.

The two species are quite similar and are distinguished by small silver markings on the back of the hindwing. So, I wasn't sure whether I to put a Comma or a Question Mark here, until I closely examined the second picture. This brought to mind that wonderful reference for all of us confused about punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

The title brings me to a question all pollinator gardeners should ask when they see a butterfly they like: does the caterpillar eat shoots and leaves? If so, what kinds?

Comma and Question Mark caterpillars eat leaves of hops, elms,  stinging nettles, and the plant Canadians call wood-nettle and Americans call Canadian wood-nettle (Laportea canadensis).

Nettles are food plants for the beautiful Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies too. That's why I'm probably the only flower gardener I know crazy enough to deliberately plant stinging nettles in his garden. However, boiled nettle leaves do not sting and make a healthy tea or addition to stew, so perhaps there are some veggie/herb gardeners out their with nettle patches.

photo abibrooks, rights reserved

photo KM&G Morris, rights reserved
In the tropics you can see a wide variety of vivid butterflies on freshly cut or rotting fruit. I remember seeing dozens on a feeder in the Arenal Volcano Preserve in Costa Rica.

Butterflies are not the only fruit juice drinkers that are pollinators. Of course we have all seen wasps on rotting fruit, but I am not suggesting you encourage that in your pollinator garden!

orioles and oranges. photo: thefixer
The final fruit-fiend pollinator Ontario gardeners should know about is the oriole. Our Baltimore Orioles migrate south to Central America in winter and will damage fruit in orange groves to get their favorite drink. The northern gardener can take advantage of this by putting cut orange slices on a platform feeder (that raccoons and squirrels can't reach!) in May and June to entice orioles to nest nearby.

So, if you want to attract pollinators with more than just flowers, add some fruit trees or bushes to your garden!

All images in this blog have Creative Commons rights reserved by the photographers. Non-commercial re-use is allowed so long as the author is acknowledged and this reuse restriction is mentioned.

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