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Volume 15, Issue 34 ~ August 23 - August 29, 2007

Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

Details of the Season

Hairstreak butterflies and native clethra

Clethra alnifolia is a fine native shrub that blooms at the peak of summer. It belongs in the same category with mountain laurel, rhododendron and other natives popular with gardeners. Clethra has the additional appeal of growing naturally in local wetlands.

Some know it as sweet pepperbush because the seeds, which stay on the plant until the following spring, resemble peppercorns. The white flowers grow in a spike and are attractive to butterflies. This shrub grows in freshwater wetlands, but you can plant it in your yard.

The white-M hairstreak, Parhassius m-album is a small butterfly common any place where flowers grow. They are usually seen on flowers feeding, wings pressed together upright, with underwings exposed. The underwings are subtle gray-brown with tiny markings. The upper wings are iridescent blue but not often observed, unless you are looking at a preserved specimen. Their flight is quick and erratic.

Hairstreaks are part of the family Lycaenidae. These exquisite little insects are not the grand symbols of summer. They are the poignant details of the season. The experience of finding one of the many jewel-like members of this extended family is a small pleasure, perhaps, but not to be discounted.

Earlier this summer I was delighted to receive a call from my very smart and curious niece, Catherine. She found a hairstreak and thought that I could identify it for her. She wanted to know if it was common or perhaps a rarity. I had to say No. They are quite common, but most people never notice them.

More important than rarity is the observation, the learning. The hairstreak experience is not uncommon, but it is free and closer than you might think.

Clethra alnifolia

What to look for: A wetland shrub that grows up to five feet. Leaves are serrated. Flowers are white and grow in a spike.

Where to look: Freshwater wetlands: swamps, marshes and stream or riversides.

Where to go: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp near Prince Frederick, Quiet Waters Park near Annapolis.

White-M Hairstreak butterfly

What to look for: Small butterflies with gray underwings with black and white markings and an orange spot on the hind wing.

Where to look: Wherever there are flowers.

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