Dear Wood Folk,
In cottage country Ontario, the eyed brown (lethe eurydice) flutters around from the end of spring into September. They’re usually found in wetland areas like fens and cattail marshes. They breed once in the summer and the new generation overwinters here in their larval stage. These caterpillars feed on sedges.
“Sedges have edges” they say. Well, the whole saying is..
“Sedges have edges
Grasses are round
Rushes are hollow where willows abound.“
Sedges have a triangular shaped stem. They look like grass, but they’re “edgier” and often thicker and tougher. Sedges (cyperaceae spp.) are from a large family of around 5,500 known species including many hybrids. And right this minute there are probably sedges in your lawn. There’s even a trend toward planting sedges for a lawn instead of grass, but beware many of the sedges that come recommended for that online aren’t going to be native here.
Eyed Brown Plant Allies
Adult eyed browns choose wetland, broad-leafed sedges and nearby broadleaf plants to lay their eggs on. Their larvae feed on these wetland sedges. True sedges are their hosts (carex spp.). The main attraction being Carex stricta, which is common here in open wet locations. The caterpillars have also been observed on local sedges like c. bromoides (rare), c. lacustris (uncommon here, found in stream margins and lake edges), and c. lupulina (also uncommon).
There are quite a few “eyed” and brown coloured butterflies in our area and they will take time to distinguish. This species can be especially difficult to distinguish from the closely related Appalachian brown. Northern pearly-eye, little wood-satyr and the common wood-nymph also strike a great resemblance. You can see them all lined up in a row at Ontario Butterflies (https://www.ontariobutterflies.ca/families/nymphalidae#h.p_ID_976).
Those of you with a slow stream or marshy area may be especially interested in adding wetland sedges to your landscaping to attract eyed browns.
Skippers in the Sedges
Skippers generally flutter ’round to grasses, but the mothy-looking brown dun skipper is after sedges. Its caterpillars feed on a wide variety of true sedges (carex spp.)
Dun Skipper Plant Allies
Besides wetlands, dun skippers hang around woodlands and woodland edges, even roadsides. They are much less picky about their habitat. They may prefer the finer leaved of sedges for host plants.
Adult dun skippers feed on the nectar of flowering plants like common milkweed, dogbane, fireweed, heal-all and New Jersey tea – soon to be featured in its own Wood Folk Diary with its own host butterfly.
Sedges Have Their Own Family of Moths
Besides our title butterflies, there’s a whole lineup of “sedge moths” (glyphipterigidae). At least six species can be found in Ontario.
Including some native grasses and sedges in your landscaping plans benefits many important insects.
Some may assume landscaping with grass and sedge is going to be boring looking, but they can be quite decorative. Some sedges have pretty, reduced flowers. Similarly, some grasses have colourful anthers too. Did they win you over? Either way, we’ll be back to showier flowers and butterflies next month..