Friday, September 10, 2010

Speedwell Surprises

The past few weeks have been filled with butterfly surprises in my gardens. A couple of weeks ago I was completely surprised to see this fascinating creature in my front garden:

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) on Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
Being somewhat of a novice at butterfly identification, I hopped over to Butterflies of the Carolinas & Virginias, hosted by Randy Emmit. Randy also writes a superb garden blog, Randy and Meg's Garden Paradise.  I was quickly able to ascertain that my visitor was a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)--a 'True Brush-Footed' butterfly in the family Nymphalidae.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) on Speedwell (Veronica spicata)

Lest my closeup photos give the impression that this is a large butterfly, the photo below shows it's actual size when viewed in proper perspective, without being cropped and enlarged--about the size of the small yellow flower on my Shrubby Cinquefoil. The Common Buckeye has a 'medium sized' wingspan which can range in width from 1 5/8" to 2 3/4".

This little Buckeye first came to my attention as it rested on a bed of mulch near a rock in the garden. Fascinated, I took photos as it opened and closed it's wings.

Had I not paid attention, I might have completely missed this beautiful sight, as it blends in so well with the mulch when it's wings are closed.

As I watched, the Buckeye flitted around the garden, dividing time between the yellow Cinquefoil and the
blue blooms of the Speedwell.

Since that first sighting, I have photographed more of them (or perhaps the same one?) on my Anise Hyssop

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) on Anise Hyssop (Agastache x hybrid) 'Blue Fortune'

...and even recognized them in a field of wildflowers and clover, while visiting my mother:

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) on White Clover (Trifolium repens)

I've been learning a lot about wildflowers, native plants and butterflies this summer, so you would think that the words "Oh, no!", upon eyeing caterpillars on my Speedwell today--(eating the leaves to bits)--would not have come out of my mouth:

But that's exactly what I said!

"Oh, no! What are these things doing on my plants?", said I.

I mean, I have been on the lookout all summer for Swallowtail Butterfly eggs and larvae, Monarch Butterfly eggs and larvae...but was definitely NOT prepared for larvae on my Veronica!

At first I actually thought they were those 'tent caterpillars' that make huge nests in trees. Nuisances they are! Pests!

But like the curious gardener, photographer, nature-lover and garden-blogger that I am, I ran inside and took advantage of the search features on Google. 

By now, most computer-savvy people know that just about anything can be researched by typing search words and questions into the Google Search box. As usual, I was not disappointed with the results I got. These were, indeed, Common Buckeye larvae!

Many people might not find that exciting...but I do. They are most welcome here in my garden. They can eat all the leaves they want from these perennial plants. The plants will come back next year so no damage is being done.

I consider this a victory for my garden and for the continuation of wildlife in my yard! The only thing I am concerned about is whether or not these cats will fare well on a diet of Spike Speedwell leaves. Although Veronica is listed as one of the many host plants for the Common Buckeye, the Spiked Speedwell variety is not among them. Only time will tell if these cats will actually pupate and emerge as butterflies.

I really, really want to be able to call these Veronica 'Native Plants', but alas, they are not. While there are several varieties of Veronica that are, in fact, 'native' to the U.S., this European-native does exceptionally well here in my Virginia garden. It is not invasive, and in my opinion, it might as well be considered a native plant;-)

I have started a new page, called Planting Natives where I plan to feature the native plants I've added to my gardens, along with the wildlife that visit here as a result. I'll be working on the page as time permits. I created a blog of the same name and have been thinking about going 'live' with it, but have decided to put that idea on hold, for now.

Words and photos ©Thanks For Today, by Jan Huston Doble


  1. What a great post, full of wonderful pictures and information. I love the markings on this butterfly. It always seems like a bummer when you see cats eating your plants down to nothing, but having the butterflies is so worth it.

    Enjoy the process in your lovely gardens.


  2. Oh, Jan ... I so want to see this beauty. Wonderful captures and are we not so lucky to have Randy in our community. Maybe you will luck out and see a chrysalis! I will change my settings for your new blog. Congratulations! ;>)

  3. Oh, hello Jan! I adore Buckeyes and have photographed them often in my own native plant gardens. Either blog or both, I'll be followin' ya! Native plants are a passion of mine as well, dearie. All the native plants in my own yard are so happy and healthy that they're about to take over the place. This is a great post!

  4. A wonderful post that I so much enjoyed reading. And aren't we blessed by Google? I will be sure to find you wherever you are.

  5. I love the common buckeye - this was the first year that I had them in my garden. I'm hoping to increase the variety of butterflies as I add more native plants. I'll be checking out your new blog!

  6. Great pictures of outstanding butterflies! Another good reason to limit or eliminate use of backyard pesticides. Just plant enough for everyone!

  7. Jan, I certainly will continue to read your blog wherever it is and whatever you call it, and I imagine that would be true for most of your readers. After all, haven't you announced at least twice that you were quitting blogging, without losing your readers? You can't get rid of us even if you try! LOL. I love the concept of the new blog and can't wait to take a look at it. -Jean

  8. Thank you all for your lovely comments. I have decided to put the new blog on hold, and instead, created a Page called Planting Natives. It will be the same concept...but I will just document my natives there. Right now, I think keeping up with 2 blogs will be more time-consuming than I can handle! I have taken the blog 'off line' and will keep it on hold, perhaps switching over to it at a later date. Just wanted to be sure I passed that info. on (in case you try to visit the blog...which is now not accessible!).

  9. Hi Jan, What's a few tattered leaves compared to these jewels? I love them and am excited with you.

  10. What a special gift those buckeyes left you! I think the cats are most neat looking and will be looking on my veronica now too. Congrats on the new native page.

  11. Hello Jan, that Buckeye is beautiful and what a wonderful discovery to find it's cats in your garden! I am missing butterflies at the moment, but hopefully I will see the first ones returning after winter very soon! Wonderful photos by they way :)

  12. Dear Jan,

    I think you just answered a question of mine. I was visiting May Dreams Gardens and trying to identify the butterflies in Carol's post. I believe they are the buckeye.

    Beautiful, and your photographs are outstanding, as always!

    Pam x

  13. Hi, Jan!
    Cool stuff. I am very excited to read up on your native flower suggestions. :)

  14. The buckeyes are prolific here! I think a new batch hatched as they've increased dramatically over the last week. Our swimming pool is salt water and they (other butterflies and dragonflies) tend to love to sip it.
    Great photos!

  15. Your Buckeye was a handsome fellow. Great pictures of the butterfly and the little offspring.Your post was very informative, I am glad you did the research. Now I know what to leave alone on my Speedwell.

  16. beautiful butterflies and caterpillars. If we want the butterflies we have to put up with the caterpillars. I imagine they know what they're doing and will succeed on this plant - look forward to the progress report.

  17. You've captured this butterfly beautifully - I've never seen one of those here - do hope you're having a good summer - it's been a busy one in France - thus the lack of time for blogging - hope this changes over the winter at least! Take care Miranda

  18. Hi Jan - This is the first year I've seen Buckeyes in my gardens too. I also saw one over at my Mom's house. They sure have striking markings. I've not seen any caterpillars, though, but I've not looked that closely.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Sorry I missed your comment when it was posted - but I found it this morning. :-D

  19. Great photos of the Buckeye, Jan! In past years I've been lucky to see one Buckeye, but this year there have been dozens in my garden. I'm not sure what has caused their surge in numbers, but I'm thrilled to see them. Thanks so much for identifying the caterpillar--I would have wrongly assumed this was a pest, too. Now if I see one of these, I'll be sure to leave it alone!

  20. jan, He's wonderful! I love them and have found that this time of year they are most numerous! Lucky you to spot the cats! They are lucky, too, that you will keep them safe! Gail

  21. Excellent photos Jan! I had a similar reaction to the larvae when I spotted checkerspot larvae on my Scrophularia earlier this year. That plant did eventually recover, although they almost completely mowed it down. Clearly I need to plant more, as I'd rather have the butterflies anyway!

  22. Your nature photography is stunning! I love it, thanks for posting!

  23. Excellent post Jan and your pictures are fantastic. I also get excited when spot caterpillars in the garden, is my contribution to mother nature.

  24. I've seen buckeyes recently too - most in my garden are quick and shy. The one I did happen to photograph ended up being pretty jacked up. Great photos!

  25. Thanks for the buckeye ID... I've seen them all over my garden this summer and have wondered what they were! Your garden is looking great, though mine is a bit past it's prime. I'm hoping to add a few mums to the pots on the porch before too much longer.

  26. A Victory indeed! The buckeye is a beautiful little guy and so happy you have discovered them in your gardens! I don’t mind caterpillars munching on my plants but not so nice am I to the beetles… Lucky you to get such great pictures as butterflies are very difficult to capture…

  27. Dear Jan,
    I too love seeing the relationships of plants and bugs...It just seems so right when leaves are eaten. I am finding the balance between native plants and non-native. Making sure I plant plenty of hosts plants for all the butterflies.
    The Buckeye is my husband's favorite butterfly.
    Wonderful photographs.


Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment! Please enjoy your TODAY and all of the gifts in YOUR garden of life!


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