Dear Wood Folk,
Around cottage country, Ontario we have numerous fritillary butterflies. From a distance these bright orange butterflies are sometimes mistaken for monarchs. Fritillary can be a hard word to retain; at least it was for me. (Frit frit frit.. (h)illary. Repeat 10 times. Maybe picture a Hillary you know “freaking lit”.)
Our most common greater fritillaries around Haliburton county are the great spangled fritillary (speyeria cybele) and Atlantis (s. atlantis). You can also spot aphrodite (s. aphrodite), another greater fritillary, and the silver-bordered (boloria selene) and bog fritillaries (b. eunomia). The boloria spp. are called lesser fritillaries. All can be complicated to ID!
They have a surprising host plant. All fourteen “greater” fritillaries and more use this tiny purple flowered plant as their host plant..
Fritillary Plant Allies
Violet (<link is to our feature on the edible and medicinal uses of violet)! The shrinking violet (viola spp.)! Some folks see wild violets in their lawn and think of them as a weed, but they’re a valuable wildflower for our wildlife including these many fritillary butterflies. It’s the fritillary caterpillar’s host plant species.
Native violets make a pretty groundcover and besides lawns will often colonize old trails through the forest here. Hiking through the 100 acre in the spring and early summer there’s a new type of violet blooming down the trail every couple weeks. Purples, then yellow, then white, and sometimes a colourful bouquet. Deep in the woods I find violets surrounded by our many spring ephemerals including leeks, largeflower bellwort, Dutchman’s breeches, blue cohosh, and spring beauties.
As to the adults, these butterflies are some of the most common for me to spot on wildflower hikes. As pictured (and in order), they nectar on many of the all star pollinator plants like Joe-pye weed, common milkweed, fleabane, and spreading dogbane. If you’ve been adding native plants with butterflies in mind, you’re already attracting them. The more diverse your native pollinator garden the happier your fritillaries will be.
This is going to be a long volume for the Wood Folk Diaries. We’ve covered more than 10 types of butterflies so far and haven’t even touched a bee yet. When we’re out of local butterflies we’ll switch to moths or bees next. I have a feeling we’ll be putting out pollinator and host plant diaries for the entire foreseeable future. And I am chomping at the bit to someday write Wood Folk Diaries on Ontario’s poisonous plants and also to show you my growing collection of trail cam antics. It’s a growing possibility that we’ll post a few volumes simultaneously.
See you next 17th (I hope)! We’ll be talking about tiny hairstreaks and their host plants.