The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 8: NJ Tea with Azures and Endangered Mottled Duskywings

Dear Wood Folk,

The northern azure (celastrina lucia) is also known as the “northern spring azure” and “lucia azure”. Three recognized morphs plus numerous hybrids exist. And they’re all difficult to distinguish. However, it is the most common azure in most of Ontario, and the only species found to the north. Before I heard this, I had always called them “spring” or “summer” azures based off the time of year. Oops.

Northern Azure (celastrina lucia)
Northern Azure (celastrina lucia)

The lighter baby blue “summer azure” has one sighting in Haliburton on iNat, if that is the correct ID. In Ontario as a whole, “spring” azures follow “summer” in population size.

Northern Azure Plant Allies

In the spring, they emerge as pupa/chrysalids. Up north, this is after nearly a year of dormancy.. Because as adults they have a very short lifespan, only a few days for females to perhaps a few weeks for males. They only drink a little flower nectar in that time, spending more time on the ground sucking up minerals. And even more time toward their main task: mating.

Female azures lay eggs on the flower buds of wild cherries like black cherry, vaccinium spp. like lowbush blueberry, dogwoods, viburnum spp. like highbush cranberry, meadowsweet, NJ tea, and sarsaparilla.. and likely more. Then she dies, kind of like My Octopus Teacher.

The caterpillars hatch within days and will eat and eat and grow for a few weeks. They secrete a sweet nectar of their own that some ants like. (A picture of this phenomena will be in our future silvery blue butterfly diary come December!) This ant ally will protect the caterpillar from some predators. Ants don’t only plant a ton of our spring ephemeral plants, they work as body guards too. 🙂 I live for this sort of thing. Every little thing is connected.

Mottled Duskywing Plant Allies

Recent mottled duskywing (erynnis martialis) sightings with pictures are on iNat. While I’ve seen other duskywings (a kind of skipper) mottled isn’t checked off my lifer list yet. They are more likely to be seen in southern Ontario, but their numbers have been on the decline in eastern Canada. The province of Ontario recently created The Ontario Butterfly Species at Risk Recovery Team. In 2021, the team released mottled duskywings into Pinery Provincial Park. They’ve had success so far. We’ve lost some similar butterflies species; in fact, “mottled” is the only oak savannah specialist left to save in Ontario.

Their specialist habitat is dry with sparse vegetation. One habitat that fits their needs is “alvars”. Alvars are limestone with shallow dry clay or sandy soil and sparse vegetation that’s mainly early successional grass, wildflowers and some shrubs. Oak and pin woodlands, tallgrass prairies may also fit the bill. You can read about oak savannahs here, and how they are maintaining such in Pinery Provincial Park.

Unlike the azures, mottled duskywings only host plants are New Jersey tea (ceanothus americanus) and redroot (ceanothus herbaceus). Neither are tolerant of the closed canopies that make up much of Haliburton county, but either plant can be worked into your landscaping. They are a great alternative to nonnative lilacs; some even call them wild lilacs. You’ll only find these butterflies where you can find their host plant.

After their dance with NJ tea or redroot, the mature larvae spend the winter in silky nests. They emerge as adults toward late Spring. In southwestern Ontario, there’s a second brood flying around toward the end of summer. Adults nectar on a variety of flowers, besides ceanothus spp.: certain asters, blazing star (Liatris spp.), flowering bluets (houstonia spp.), gromwell (Lithospermum spp.), phlox (phlox spp.), rock cress (arabis spp.), and vervains to name a few.

Their story is an acute example of species dying out thanks to habitat loss caused by humans. Our suppression of naturally occurring fire threatens mottled duskywing habitat too. These precious habitats are successive.. field becomes forest and back again. Or if they don’t, we lose many early succession species. Controlled burns will likely become more common to preserve these habitats.

New Jersey tea (ceanothus americanus)
New Jersey tea (ceanothus americanus)

We’ve covered New Jersey tea in our edible and medicinal plants blog. Plant it in dry, well drained spots in either full sun or part shade. It’s great for erosion control on slopes and it’s drought tolerant. I got mine from

For further info, check out this page from The Land Between:

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