Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 37

September 12-18, 2002

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The Dance on the Flowers
by Joan Bennett Clancy

Butterflies are dressed for success
in their job in flowerland,
the mighty task of pollination.

The mirror doesn’t have to give proof that I am aging. My behavior reflects it clearly. Last week I beckoned my young neighbor to my yard to show off my exotic pelican blossom. As he left, I reminded him that next week the passion flower would be in bloom. This is exactly what the elder women did to me when I was a young transplant to Fairhaven. Now I do it — not because I’m getting old but to propagate my love of butterflies.

I have been plotting and potting my plantings — pelican blossom and passion flower among them — to lure butterflies into my gardens.

As a child, I found them all about on the native milkweed and cow dung of the dairy. They scarcely existed in this yard. Now and then a flutter but nothing dramatic. I have changed that.

I’m going to climb up on my self-erected pedestal. (I deserve a little bragging space; I’m an elder lady.) My 79-cent lantana has grown to a five-foot umbrella of bloom wintered over the last 15 years. Lovely as it is laden with blooms skirted over the ground, the sight that dazed me was the array of butterflies intoxicating themselves on the nectar.

Fourteen of these fragile beauties of various species were flying and perching and slurping. Like pirouetting dancers, they floated from floret to floret.

One had half a wing missing. It was not impeded. It was back every day to dine at the sweet banquet of lantana, where there is plenty for all.

Their illusionist quality makes them magical. They fall from the sky as if a leaf, then morph into butterflies. In staccato rhythm they ascend and descend as if a cymbal slam startled them onto the next pool of nectar, that gift from their gods. The entrancing whirling, twirling renders them uncountable in the old now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t trick. By this illusion they appear innumerable. It’s all in the slight of flight.

I wonder if they have a music of their own to accompany their glorious agility. Did the tiger roar “Joy to the World,” the red-spotted purple hum “Deep Purple,” the spicebush do a Spice Girls number? Can the painted lady coo a seductive song?

This scene was more surprising because the pelican plant and the passion flower were my chosen butterfly lures. The butterflies were nonchalant about both. There is a clutter of various butterflies about the garden’s plantings, but no flower has the communal attraction of the lantana. Lantana is love-it.

As mother would have said, “It was so beautiful it didn’t look real.” This sight replicated in silk would be gaudy and preposterous. In nature, it is a marvelously thrilling array of color, design and dynamic motion.

Butterflies are dressed for success in their job in flowerland, the mighty task of pollination.

I’m enjoying the fruits of my labors, and hoping there will be more butterflies nurtured many years on this old lady’s little plot on Chesapeake Bay.

Want to see more butterflies? For the long term, plant your own butterfly garden. While you’re waiting, take a day trip to the Butterfly Garden of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, where many species are enjoying a moveable feast.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly