This post includes two recent trips to the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flowers in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park. I have made my peace with the fact that the Purple Loosestrife plant is an invasive species at this location. It is really successful at crowding out the other plants that gather in this wetlands area. Originally introduced from Europe, the Purple Loosestrife has spread across the United States. Eradicating it is very difficult because millions of seeds are produced annually and the loosestrife can grow with just a fragment of root in the ground. The loosestrife probably doesn’t realize that it has this poor reputation for it provides beauty to the landscape and food for a myriad of insects, particularly butterflies. Surely, the loosestrife can be forgiven for being itself? Can the same be said of our kind who after all perpetuated the Purple Loosestrife by planting it to begin with and then allowing it to escape into the larger environment? The loosestrife arrived here floating down the river. I can recall when there wasn’t any to be found in the park.
Here’s a flashback from three years a go. I remember it was my lavender-lipped friend, the Butterfly Guide, who introduced me to this loosestrife stand back in September of 2010. We had a great time together and I managed a few nice butterfly images on that day. Ever since the Butterfly Guide showed me the way, I’ve been returning on my own and observing and documenting what happens here. I heard through the grapevine that my old friend has since passed on and is conducting tours in the great beyond. He had a knack for revealing beauty to all who wanted to experience it. Seeing his image again makes me feel nostalgic.
This is an Eastern or Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) and was the most numerous butterfly I saw visiting the loosestrife flowers. They were so intent on sipping nectar that it was easy to approach them as they fed. Now for a few more checkerspot images.
I found myself carefully wading into the flowers to get as close as possible. Many of the flower bunches were in the six to seven feet tall range and it was humid walking among the plants. We have been having a mild streak lately with lower than normal temperatures and regular precipitation. Residents in our locality have had few reasons to complain about the heat. The checkerspots are not the only butterflies out here. Various swallowtail butterflies also enjoy these flowers. Here are images of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, (Papilio glaucus).
We are fortunate to have many other species of swallowtails in our area. Among the others I have associated with the loosestrife flowers include the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), the American or Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), and the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Here’s an image of a Spicebush Swallowtail feeding.
We have several different Skipper species present. This is the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). The white spot on its hind wing shines like mother-of-pearl when the light hits it just right.
Another regular visitor is the Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae).
I was struck by the unusual pose this Cabbage Butterfly was in and decided to get closer to check it out. When it didn’t fly away…I knew something else was going on. Although you can’t see it in this picture, a small spider has caught this butterfly by its head. With so many insects feeding on the loosestrife, predators were sure to follow. Large bumble bees also enjoy these flowers. They are so heavy that they cause the loosestrife stems to bend upon landing on them.
Over the years, I have watched the Purple Loosestrife become more common in the western section of the park. The plant is now well established. Typically, the loosestrife blooms continuously from July to September, but to my eye, it is looking like the blooms are starting to play out a bit? Every year is different and some butterflies are more common in one year than another. Missing from the loosestrife blooms this year are the Buckeyes, Monarchs, and their mimics…the Viceroy Butterflies. Perhaps they will still make an appearance later on if the loosestrife flowers continue blooming. I hope you have enjoyed wading through the loosestrife with me? Next time, I will post something about the exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft that is featuring this blog in their show. Now time for one final image before closing.