My 27 year effort to help Seattle's butterflies is finally bearing documented fruit (or eggs)!

Twenty seven years ago I started looking for butterflies in Seattle, as I had always looked for them as a kid, on Long Island, New York over 55 years ago. I didn't find that many butterflies, and didn't find that many species here. I thought maybe urbanization, and the commercializing of the metropolitan landscape had wiped out many of their host (caterpillar food) plants, as well as wiping out many of the flower species they preferred to nectar on. I then looked into the current status of Seattle's native plant species. I found a checklist, assembled by Arthur Lee Jacobson of all of the wild plants that ever were recorded growing in metropolitan Seattle, and he listed 512 native species, and 146 of them were listed as "extirpated", that is they historically were recorded here, but appeared lost, as they hadn't been recorded here for decades. I then wanted to help with the recovery of all of the area's lost, and locally rare, native plant species, not only those that butterflies used, but helping the recovery of any lost, or locally rare plant species, which in turn would help all of the other species of co-adapted animals, fungi, and plants. Butterfly habitat plants still remained a priority. I knew that if I wanted to start any locally lost plant species growing here again, I would have to learn the habitats of all of these plants to both know where I might still find them, and where they would be most likely to survive, thrive, and spread, if I planted any here, so I started to study the habitats of all of our local, native species, with a special interest in the locally rare, and locally lost, species, and then a special interest in those that the butterflies used.

I started my efforts in Ravenna Park in 1996, where I successfully established a population of Petasites frigidus palmatus - Western Sweet Coltsfoot / Palmate Coltsfoot, where there was excellent coltsfoot habitat, but no coltsfoot when I arrived. I was pleased to see a couple of observations of butterflies nectaring on Coltsfoot in our larger area, and the 2nd observation, proving its additional value as a butterfly habitat species! I then moved to West Seattle in 2000, where I then started working to help uncommon to rare plant species, as well as working to help lost species return. In West Seattle's Lincoln Park I was successful in establishing a population of Cirsium brevistylum - Short-styled Thistle, a species that historically grew in Seattle, but evidently had been lost. I was interested in bringing back lost thistles especially because 2 of our local butterflies lay eggs on them, and more nectar on their flowers. While the thistles have now been growing in Lincoln Park since about 2005, I have never seen one of the butterflies that "host on" (lay their eggs on) them actually lay eggs on them, and never found butterfly caterpillars on them.

Then, about 5 years ago, I decided to start work on making a grassy area in the park into the best butterfly habitat I could. Starting from one edge of the grassy area, I started pulling all of the non-native species out. I then starting planting with relatively few plants of a few native species that I both hoped would spread well and cover the ground tightly enough to discourage the non-natives from coming back, as well as those species that might attract butterflies to lay their eggs on, and to nectar on the flowers. Starting with just a few plants 4 - 5 years ago, the formerly lost annual Collomia heterophylla - Varied-leaf Collomia did an especially good job of filling in all of the space the other natives didn't fill, to make the patch as weed resistant as I knew how. I also wanted to use it as a place for some of Seattle's, and Lincoln Park's, lost species to grow again.

That edge of this grassy area was also a forest edge where every year I might see a couple of one of Seattle's less common butterflies, Polygonia satyrus - the Satyr Comma - (though I prefer the alternate name "Satyr Anglewing"). The grassy area also had a small patch of Stinging Nettle - "Urtica gracilis" by iNaturalist's taxonomy or "U. dioica" by the taxonomy of the our west coast universities. This species is the most important host plant for Seattle's butterflies, with 5 of the maybe 21 butterflies that might still be found in Seattle laying their eggs on it, and 3 laying only on Stinging Nettle, including the Satyr Comma. Stinging Nettle is also used by humans, as a green vegetable that when cooked can't sting. It also has multiple medicinal uses. Sadly, 2 years ago, I found someone had dug up the nettles, maybe for their medicinal herb garden, that I had hoped the Satyr Commas, and the other area butterflies that host on it, would lay eggs on. So I dug a bit of nettle root stock out of one of the denser patches elsewhere in the park, and planted it in a sunny spot in the middle of the grassy area where I hoped those butterflies would find it (butterflies preferring sunny spots). The patch I started with a bit of root stock became robust over the 2 years since I planted it, while pulling weeds away from the patch, and giving it occasional squirts of water!

Then today I watched one of our Satyr Commas land on the nettles! It then went to the underside of a leaf, where it would lay an egg! I had hoped to make an iNaturalist observation of it, but it flew off before I could. I tried to see where it went, but before I could catch up with it, it flew back to the nettles, then back to the underside of another leaf, where it would lay another egg! This time I was able to get the observation too! I thought was lucky to get 2 eggs! It then repeated its pattern, fly away, come back, land on the patch, go to the underside of another leaf, and lay another egg and fly off again. I only imagine the pattern is to check if there are more nettles nearby to spread the eggs out, but if not, come back and lay another egg in the same place. It did this at least 7 times! (and that robust nettle patch now had more than enough leaves to raise more than 7 caterpillars on!) While I couldn't get a 2nd photo, I had at least 7 eggs on my now robust little nettle patch!

This was the first time in my efforts that started in 1996 to help our butterflies by helping the growth of their habitat plants, that I actually either saw a butterfly caterpillar on one of the plants where I got them growing, or saw a butterfly lay an egg on one! I now not only had a growing little butterfly habitat meadow, but one that was proven to be used in the most critical way by one of our butterflies, that is for egg laying. While I wouldn't call the Satyr Comma "rare" here, it is among the less common butterflies that we still see here, and I'd like to think there could be 7 more here next year thanks to my efforts!

Posted on Απρίλιος 30, 2023 0542 ΠΜ by stewartwechsler stewartwechsler


This is so exciting! Thank you for sharing. I am hoping to convince my HOA to consider putting in some more native plants around my condo complex--nettles might be a hard sell (though there are plenty in my local park), but I will take note of the other species you mention.

Αναρτήθηκε από gdannin περίπου 1 χρόνος πριν

@gdannin My pleasure!

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler περίπου 1 χρόνος πριν

Wow, what a banner day! Hooray for native nettles and the Satyr Comma!

Αναρτήθηκε από actaeon περίπου 1 χρόνος πριν

Congratulations, Stewart!

Αναρτήθηκε από sedgequeen περίπου 1 χρόνος πριν

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