Pussytoes and Painted Ladies

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and Painted Lady Butterfly

It can happen in any neighborhood. Once Pussy Toes arrives on the Strip, pretty soon the Painted Ladies follow.

Some don’t think a respectable community should have these girls in plain sight, but for the past fifteen years I have encouraged it.

I first met “Pussytoes” at a ballpark.  My oldest son Tyler was spending endless hours in ball practice. One morning I wandered off by myself to explore the wild edges of the park.  The sound of birdsong was a peaceful respite to the voices of the coaches on the field – or my husband Michael in the stands.

And there she was – lying in the sun on a mound of the driest, worst-looking dirt imaginable.  I didn’t know her name at the time, but the silver leaved ground cover was beautiful.

I had to bring her home.

On the ride back, Michael wanted to know why – instead of watching our son play baseball and listening to Michael yell from the stands – I had dug up “dirty bags of weeds” instead.   I tried to show him the beauty of these unnamed plants, but by then he was talking to Tyler about “keeping your eye on the ball.”

So I planted the silver leaved ground cover in my front yard along a sunny island strip.  I looked it up: Antennaria plantaginifolia, or “Pussytoes.” Silvery leaves, totally deer proof, light up any sunny spot. In the spring, they send up their flowers, five fuzzy “toes” that resemble a cat’s paw – thus the name.

 It just so happens that Pussytoes is the host plant for a native butterfly, the Painted Lady.

When the butterflies arrive in spring to flutter around my flowers it’s like watching angels visit.  The Painted Lady is not a woman of disrepute.  She is a beautiful soul that brings joy to my heart.

I plant native nectar plants each season for the butterflies. But when it comes to attracting them year after year, you have to keep your eye on the ball; butterflies need not only nectar, but also a place to lay their eggs, something their caterpillar offspring will munch on.

I have noticed painted lady caterpillars every summer in my front yard, sheltered in the silver leaves of the Pussytoes.  Native plants feed native insects, which feed our wild birds and animals. If we all plant native plants, pretty soon a subdivision can be a thriving ecosystem – with Pussy Toes and Painted ladies on every corner.

For years I’ve listened to Michael complain these can’t be real plants because they don’t sell them at Pike’s.  Three years ago I began to see Pussytoes for purchase online.  I showed Michael so he’d know those “dirty bags of weeds” were actually considered prized ground cover by master gardeners.

He admitted he was wrong and apologized.  It’s fun winning an argument – even if it takes ten years.  You just have to keep your eye on the ball.

Carpe Diem

Art Showing Joe-Pye Weed and Summer Butterflies

Swallowtails and Joe Pye Weed, A Healing Garden

For August, I want to share something from my journal last year.

August 8, 2015

I am healing this week.

The breast surgeon cut a gash in my right breast to remove a lump of flesh. Stage Zero, carcinoma in situ.

I am in no pain, so it’s hard to rest. I go outside every few hours. The Joe-Pye weed billows down the hill in my backyard, six feet tall. It began blooming a few weeks ago and hardly drew any visitors, but now, in its third week, it has begun to take on the quality of an independent colony.

Iridescent blue wasps, honeybees, plodding black carpenter bees, odd flying insects of spotted colors I have never seen. Dozens and dozens of small butterflies.

And this week, the swallowtails and fritillaries have begun to alight.

When down there, I stand in reverie, letting this swath of nature wash over me with the buzzing and fluttering and hum of life.

The energy feels like a healing balm. I drink in the medicine, letting the sun and the sounds of a meadow filter into my subconscious, into my pores like an unseen serum.

It’s a cloud, a mist of energy or life. Surrounded as it is by quiet and unmoving green, it almost feels like a starship or perhaps a space colony, humming with energy from another dimension – as though it could separate from the earth below and take off into the sky at any moment.

It vibrates with a higher energy than the spaces around it.

Over the three weeks I’ve watched it – it must act as a kind of homing beacon – more and more butterflies find it. Fritillaries flitter around each other, bees hover over the blossoms. Black swallowtails fly in to join a half dozen yellow.

This afternoon I found a katydid on the milkweed. I never get to see bugs like this. A little lizard dashed off into the grasses.

My mom Elizabeth Wallace and me

My mom, Elizabeth Wallace, and me

My mom stands out with me.

She is one of the people whom I know can stand in a patch of grass and listen to the insects buzzing, and think it’s just as rich and wonderful as I do. This time together feels precious. Mom is getting older. So am I. Who knows how long we have to enjoy unhurried conversation, moments as insignificant as standing in a small garden of grass and billowing wildflowers and enjoying the hum of insects, the flitter of scores of butterflies?

But I don’t enter these meditations until later, when I reflect upon the moment.

I’m just there, basking in it.


 Resources

 A “Carpe Diem” Butterfly Garden

Try these natives from your local nursery:
Joe-Pye Weed      Blue asters      Goldenrod     Coneflower (Echinacea)

Online, you can order butterfly plant or seed collections from “A Native Gardener’s Companion,” www.PrairieMoon.com