17 February 2019

Assorted Nectaring Plants - Part 2

Butterflies' Nectaring Plants
Assorted Flowering Plants - Part 2

A female Blue Pansy feeding on the flower of the Feather Cockscomb

In our earlier article on assorted flowering plants that attract butterflies to feed on them, we featured six plants that some butterflies visit for their nectar source. Again, it is important to point out that some of these plants, whilst featuring flowers that may appear pretty and attractive to us human beings, may not necessarily be all-time favourites with butterflies.

A female Plain Tiger feeding on the flower of Yellow Cosmos 

In Part 2 of Butterflies' Assorted Flowering plants, we feature another six species of plants whose flowers some butterflies occasionally visit to feed on. Many of these plants are cultivated for their ornamental and colourful flowers in landscaped parks and gardens.

7. Honolulu Creeper (Antigonon leptopus)

A Leopard Lacewing at the pretty pink flowers of the Honolulu Creeper

This Mexican native is a herbaceous slender climber that features pretty pink flowers. There are tendrils that arise from the ends of the inflorescence that aid in climbing up trellises and pergolas. It is often found in commercial butterfly enclosures in the region. Tea made from leaves of this plant is used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, flu and menstrual pains.

The plant can be found in Singapore at the Botanic Gardens, and grows wild at the Dairy Farm Nature Park near the Wallace Education Centre. We have found small Lycaenids like the Cycad Blue and Gram Blue feeding on the pink flowers in the wild. Larger butterflies like the Leopard Lacewing and some Danainae are occasionally seen feeding on the flowers where other more popular nectaring sources are scarce.

8. Feather Cockscomb (Celosia argentea)

Healthy shrubs of the Feather Cockscomb at an urban park in Singapore

The Feather Cockscomb is an attractive shrub that is often found as feature plants in landscaped gardens and used as coloured highlights in the landscaping palette of plants. Originating from tropical Africa, this plant is an annual and needs to be cut down and replaced as the plant grows old. The feathery flowers is used in floral arrangements or ikebana either live or dried.

Found in some open butterfly gardens the Feather Cockscomb has been observed to attract only a handful of butterfly species of the Danainae like the Blue and Dark Glassy Tigers, Blue and Peacock Pansys and a small variety of Lycaenidae.

9. Blue Butterfly Bush (Rotheca myricoides)

A Slate Flash feeding on the flower of the Blue Butterfly Bush

Called a "Butterfly Bush", the Blue Butterfly Bush is unfortunately, not particularly attractive to butterflies. The curious name of the plant is due to its resemblance to a butterfly. It is a perennial woody bush that grows up to 2-3 m tall. The attractive flowers feature unique long, white to bluish stamens that arch over the petals which serve as a landing platform for insect pollinators.

Hungry butterflies feeding on the flower of the Blue Butterfly Bush

Usually cultivated in parks and gardens, the flowers attract the smaller species of the Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae butterflies. The occasional larger Leopard Lacewing has been observed to visit the flower when other nectaring sources are in short supply. The smaller species like the Common Grass Yellow, Cycad Blue, Slate Flash and a small variety of skippers have been seen on the flowers of the Blue Butterfly Bush.

10. Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum)

The Indian Heliotrope is a "magnet" for the Tigers and Crows

This annual herb that probably originates from South America and Tropical Asia is a well-known "Danainae magnet". The low-growing shrub, when pulled out by the roots and hung upside down to dry, attracts many species of Tigers and Crows very quickly. The small flowers (3-4 mm wide) are light purple or white with a yellow centre.

The fresh flowers are mainly visited by butterflies of the subfamily Danainae like the Plain Tiger, Striped Blue Crow and Glassy Tigers. Curiously, we have not observed any other species of butterflies feeding on the flowers.

11. Yellow Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus)/Wild Cosmos (Cosmos caudatus)

Top : Yellow Cosmos and Bottom : Wild Cosmos flowers in pretty shades of yellow and pink

This ornamental plant with cheery bright yellow, orange and pink flowers are a favourite with gardeners wanting to add colour to their patch of greenery. The leaves of the plant can be eaten raw and used in Malay cuisine (hence the plant is called Raja Ulam). It forms a type of salad in Malay cuisine in combination with other vegetables and garnishing, and eaten with rice. The plant originates from tropical South America. There are many species of Cosmos with colourful flowers that can be found here.

Urban butterflies in parks and gardens often visit the colourful flowers of the Cosmos spp. to feed on the nectar. Amongst these, the Nymphalinae and Danainae are the most regularly seen on these colourful flowers, besides the occasional Pieridae and Hesperiidae species. Where it is cultivated in a free-ranging butterfly garden, the Plain Tiger and Glassy Tigers are often seen feeding on the flowers of the Cosmos.

12. Water Jasmine (Wrightia religiosa)

A Dark Glassy Tiger feeding on the fragrant white flower of the Water Jasmine

This woody shrub is a native to Southeast Asia, and is often associated with religious use. The plant is considered sacred, and can often be found in the vicinity of Buddhist temples in Thailand. The Water Jasmine, called "shui mei" (水梅) or literally "water plum", is cultivated in private gardens for its delicate white flowers and intense fragrance. The Water Jasmine is also a favourite with bonsai enthusiasts as the plant can be pruned and can form interesting shapes when managed well.

A Five Bar Swordtail taking nectar from the flower of the Water Jasmine

The fragrant white flowers sometimes attract the larger butterflies and some skippers, but not many species favour it. Even when the flowers are in full bloom and the fragrance is intense and strong to us human beings, it is curious that it is somehow not as attractive to butterflies. Some of the Glassy Tigers and Swallowtails have been observed searching for nectar from these flowers.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bob Cheong, Khew SK, Bene Tay and Anthony Wong

Assorted Nectaring Plants - Part 1

References : 

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