Easiest butterfly garden ever: let celery butts and carrot butts sprout, then stick ’em in soil.
Maybe I mean “easiest butterfly factory” ever, because these butts won’t just feed butterflies, they’ll make butterflies.
All summer, Black Swallowtail butterfly moms will find the leaves and lay eggs, and then you’ll have more Black Swallowtails.
And if you put your butts where you can see them every day, you can watch the whole butterfly lifecycle from the comfort of a lawn chair.
If you have not yet watched a butterfly lay an egg,
or a caterpillar hatch,
or a caterpillar molt,
or a caterpillar become a chrysalis,
or a chrysalis become a butterfly,
this scrap garden is your chance to increase your chances.
You MUST SEE THESE THINGS.
If you have a kid or a parent or a friend or soulmate or neighbor, then THEY MUST SEE THESE THINGS, TOO.
I’m planting several butts in a barrel after last year’s success. And because I’m starting early, I might get blooms.*
Blooms will make a scrap garden a two-fer: it’ll have “larval host plants” (for caterpillars to eat) and nectar plants (for grownups to drink).
Black Swallowtails ONLY lay eggs on plants in the carrot family, which includes cultivated (non-native) plants many of us already grow: like celery, parsley, dill, fennel, cilantro, and . . . carrot.
This is what “host plant” means. Like how Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed, and Zebra Swallowtails only lay eggs on pawpaw trees.
Buy celery and carrots. Slice base with about 2 inches to spare. This is the butt.
Use the rest for human food, because it’s the butt we want.
Put that butt in a dish of shallow water, and then put that in a sunny window.
Within two days, green shoots will start spearing from the middle of the celery.
Later, roots will start feathering from the bottom.
Naked carrots take a bit longer to show green. If they had leaves when you bought them, trim these to maybe 2 inches. (This gives butt a chance to make roots to balance the needs of the leaves.)
After a week or so—or right away, if impatient—plant the base in a pot of moist soil.
Don’t bury it: just place it deep enough for roots to nestle.
Plant your butts where you see them every day.
Mine are in the driveway where I potter with plants, and where I hang laundry. When something flutters, I usually see it.
If you are lucky, the flutter you see might be a Black Swallowtail mom laying an egg, and then you can watch that egg…
Tip: if you plant your scraps outside right away (because the weather is perfect and you are excited), note that every chipmunk and squirrel and rabbit and even bird who can reach your butts will likely dig them up.
Better to wait for roots before you put them outside, and even then, place some pebbles or rocks around them. Bare soil invites animals to meddle.
Last year, my celery butt stayed green and fluffy all spring, summer, fall, and winter, until Nashville had our record-breaking 10-days-in-a-row-of-below-freezing weather. I’m waiting to see if the roots survived.
But no fear: my fresh butt on the windowsill is waiting its star turn as caterpillar host.
HOW I FIGURED THIS OUT…
is another story. Stay tuned.
But meanwhile, here’s proof that
a butt can grow butterflies:
Plant a host plant and butterflies will find it!
Other larval host plants for Black Swallowtail butterflies include:
Native wildflowers like Southern chervil (Chaerophyllum tainturieri) which is common in Nashville yards that aren’t treated with herbicides, and Mock Bishopweed (Ptilimnium capillaceum), which is sometimes in wildflower seed mixes.
Non-native plants like Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) and Hedge Parsley (Torilis arvensis). Both of these are classed as noxious weeds / invasive plants.
Link to info page about Black Swallowtail Butterflies, including range info and pics of the larval instars.
photo credit for the adult Black Swallowtail butterfly by Derek Ramsay at wikimedia commons: link.
To have a proper butterfly garden, add other native nectar-rich flowers and more hosts for other species. Not sure what these might be? See this pdf for Central Tennessee Basin plants recommended by the North American Butterfly Association.
*Celery and carrot are biennials, so they don’t bloom until their second year. My overwintered celery should bloom this year. Same deal with parsley, which is another Black Swallowtail host plant. To attract and feed all butterflies, you need to offer flowers for nectar and host plants for new butterflies.
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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.