There are days when butterflies favor one flower rather than another, though all are at their peak bloom and likely to be brimming with nectar. On this muggy, overcast August evening every fifth flower of the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below) hosts an Eastern Tiger swallowtail. The tree is probably twenty feet tall, and there are several dozen flowers opened today, so you can figure the approximate number of butterflies though they move quickly enough between blooms that I cannot get an accurate count.
While I stopped on the path to watch a hummingbird came along, zipping from flower to flower for perhaps ten minutes until not a single bloom remained to visit, then it flew off in the direction of buddleias or lantanas on the far side of the garden. There are bumblebees on many of the lower branches of the Franklinia, and a few Japanese beetles, though the beetles are fewer than a few weeks earlier.
The Joe Pye weed is slightly past bloom now, so only a few bees remain to savor its sweet nectar. Just beyond the rear boundary of the garden, native Joe Pye weeds arching far overhead are at their peak bloom, but butterflies and bees clearly appreciate the more abundant flowers of the compact growing ‘Little Joe’ (Eupatorium or Eutrochiium purpurea, above).
There are times when butterflies prefer the blooms of the lantanas (below) or aptly named butterfly bushes (Buddleia ‘Miss Ruby’, above), but today these are visited mostly by colorful moths while butterflies are preoccupied with the Franklin tree’s flowers.