The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 2: Ladies and Pearly Everlastings

Dear Wood Folk,

In 4 days our featured edible and medicinal plant will be pearly everlasting, which we’ll then go into the human uses for. But I thought it fitting to feature it as today’s pollinator host plant in our second such diary, with one of my favourite local butterflies. I rarely get the chance to see these butterflies around here; meet the American ladies!

Lady on a New England aster.
Pearly Everlasting
Pearly everlasting in bloom.

Pearly everlasting is a primary larval plant host to both “Lady” butterflies, the American painted lady (vanessa virginiensis) and painted lady (vanessa cardui). The American painted lady will also commonly lay its eggs on pussytoes, a smaller but similarly flowered plant around here. In different areas on our continent, ladies may have completely different host plants. Unlike last month’s featured monarchs, painted ladies are more versatile as to where they lay their eggs. Thistles and mallow spp. are popular alternatives.

Pearly everlasting also hosts some skipper butterflies (like hesperia spp.) and possibly moths.

When the caterpillars later use the plant for food, it can be like a yarn bombing of silk tents as they seek to protect themselves while they feast and grow. Despite the mess of silk and frass (caterpillar poo!) the plant will be okay. And the frass will fertilize the soil around the plants.

The nectar of pearly everlasting is a valuable food source for butterflies as well. Our bee friends and other pollinating insects love it too.

Attracting Painted Ladies

Painted lady’s Latin name “vanessa cardui” translates to “butterfly of thistle” and here in Ontario we do have a native thistle called pasture thistle (cirsium discolor). Adult ladies also frequent our native anise hyssop, asters, blazing star, blue vervain, goldenrod, Joe-pye weed, ironweed, milkweed, purple coneflower, stonecrops/sedum spp., and sunflowers. And that’s certainly not a complete list! All the above plants are beneficial for a diverse range of pollinators.

As for pearly everlasting, you can plant it in about any average soil, even poor soil, and it’ll flower best in full sun. It’s a good spreader too, and low maintenance! It can be easily spread by division and transplanting or by sowing its tiny fresh seeds in late fall. Sharing is caring – your plants will multiply and their progeny can make wonderful gifts for likeminded butterfly and bee loving friends!

You can also place rocks among the plants in your pollinator garden so the butterflies have a place to rest and keep warm. Clean shallow water or well drained wet sand are more butterfly habitat options. And of course having an insect friendly yard is of huge benefit to all wildlife:)

We’ll be posting about pollinators and their host plants for the next year or two, but if you want to get a jump on learning about more local pollinators and all-star plants for your pollinator garden, a book I own that I highly recommend for Ontario area is Pollinators of Native Plants : Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (fyi link is to affiliate link with Amazon):

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