By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
Every July, I eagerly anticipate the first blooms of one of the most impressive local wildflowers: the Joe-Pye Weed. A tall plant, often towering 8 to 10 feet high, this plant churns out pale pink flower clusters the size of human heads.
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), is an amazing plant that is an herb, a wildflower, a butterfly plant and an ornamental for the flower bed. It’s named after a Native American herbalist, named Joe-Pye, who cured fevers using the Eupatorium plant. The flower’s attractiveness to butterflies is readily apparent now, as swarms of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are congregating at the Joe-Pye juice bar.
Tiger Swallowtails are the official state butterfly of Delaware, and are quite numerous in mid-summer. Their population is at its peak right now, and the best place to see them is on Joe-Pye Weed. Many of these flowers may be found along the floodplain at Ashland, as they prefer moist sandy soils. One of the best places to look is along the back corner of the parking lot near the recycling center, where there are large Joe-Pye stands that attract dozens of Tiger Swallowtails.
After last summer’s cool and wet conditions made for low butterfly numbers, we are seeing a strong rebound of many species in our region. We are hearing reports of high numbers of Tiger Swallowtails, Red Admirals, Red-spotted Purples, and Viceroys in particular. What butterflies are you seeing in your backyard?
If you would like to help with a special citizen science project, we invite you to join us for the annual Butterfly Count sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association. This year’s count will be held this Saturday, July 31, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Armed with nets, cameras, and notebooks, we will document all the butterflies we can find (and identify) at Ashland Nature Center and Burrows Run Preserve. To register for this free event, contact Sheila Vincent at 302-239-2334, ext. 125.