The Butterfly Lady Says,
“Plant It and They Will Come”
By Brita Brookes
On April 19, 2010 as part of Ferndale’s Earth Week festivities, butterfly expert Brenda Dziedzic gave a presentation at the Gerry Kulick Community Center on how to nurture and attract butterflies in your garden.
Brenda Dziedzic grew up liking nature and always enjoyed her days as a child seeing butterflies. In 2001 she decided to pursue her love of butterflies by making a butterfly garden in her very own yard. She began to research and educate herself as to what plants would attract butterflies. In 2002, the first plants in her garden were home to two Monarch butterfly eggs and as a result, her passion took off. From 2002 to today, Brenda can proudly say that over 2,215 butterflies have been hatched in her garden sanctuary.
Co-founder and President of the Southeast Michigan Butterfly Association, Brenda spoke at the Gerry Kulick Community Center as a part of Earth Day to an eager crowd of about forty-five residents. Brenda explained that in addition to being fun and visually pleasurable to attract butterflies to your garden it is also good for the survival of the species as the butterfly population is dwindling at a fast rate. Most butterflies in their butterfly phase of life normally live a short span of one month to twelve months. Butterflies provide several important environmental services from being major pollinators of plants, to eating rotten fruit and aphids and also to that of being important food for birds, bats, snakes and frogs.
All participants received handouts containing helpful garden and butterfly information, as well as seed packets from Brenda’s personally grown wildflower seed supply. Seeds issued included the Purple Coneflower and a major butterfly favorite, the Swamp Milkweed. Photos and names of all plants were vividly shown in a slide presentation by Brenda and questions were answered.
The group learned that butterflies need both host plants and nectar plants to survive. Host plants are plants that attract butterflies to lay eggs on. Specific species of butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants. As a result, to make sure one attracts and supports butterfly habitat, it is important to know which plants butterflies lay their eggs on. The most popular plants for hosting eggs are the Milkweed, Aster, False Nettle, Rue, Prickly Ash, Dill, Fennel, Pearly Everlasting, Violet and Tulip Poplar.
Nectar plants provide food sources for butterflies. Nectar plants that are favorites for butterfly populations in Michigan include the Butterfly Bush, Swamp Milkweed, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Joe-Pye-Weed, Blazingstar, Zinnia, Vervain, Aster, Ironweed, Mexican Sunflower and Butterfly Weed. Brenda advised that it is best to do plantings in groups of 3 or more plants. She also advised for better success to plant the tallest plants in the back of the garden and the shorter plants in the front. This creates a nice wind shelter and creates a layered series of levels for the butterflies to fly from as they feed.
Brenda also emphasized that all of the plants mentioned in her slide show were native plants which also have higher nectar content than non-native plants. By planting native plants in the garden one is doing their part to produce a healthy ecosystem by attracting a diverse group of insects and birds. Most native plants come back each year making your garden more natural and economically manageable.
The slideshow of Brenda’s beautiful Southeast Michigan backyard garden showed butterflies resting on what she calls “sunning spots” or rocks and stepping stones where butterflies can warm themselves when it’s cool. The presentation also showed photos of butterflies eating from sliced fruit pieces set out in feeding bowl much like a bird bath. Brenda provides places for the butterflies to “puddle” or places where butterflies ingest water and minerals from damp sand, dirt and mulch. Brenda also emphasized the importance of not using any pesticides in one’s garden ever as they are harmful to butterflies and other birds, animals and insects.
Brenda introduced the group to a variety of butterfly species and provided some lovely slides of various butterflies she has taken in her garden. These species included the Monarch, Painted Lady, American Lady, Black Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and more. Many of the markings on the butterfly wings can help one decipher the sex of the butterfly. It was amazing to see the photos Brenda has taken over the years and not a surprise to hear that she is working on a book on eggs, caterpillars and butterflies to be published early next year.
From laying eggs to mating, Brenda has seen it all in her very own backyard. As part of her dedication to the species, Brenda regularly collects and houses new eggs until they hatch into caterpillars, then she watches the chrysalis formation and then the coming out of the butterfly from the chrysalis. Once ready, the butterfly is set free into her garden and community. To do this, Brenda uses empty fish tanks, and plastic salad greens containers to house and feed them. As mentioned before, Brenda has successfully raised over 2,215 butterflies. When asked what her family thinks of the passion, Brenda responded letting me know that “her Dad has joined the movement and has now raised 127 Monarchs and also does talks at local nursing homes and the rest of her family is very supportive.”
Brenda Dziedzic truly is an example of someone who found a passion and pursued it and is one of Michigan’s best kept secrets. When you see a butterfly in your backyard, no matter where you live, you can now thank Brenda as it may have been one of her very loved and cared for butterfly children. To learn more about Brenda, her commitment to nature, and find out about her summer garden walk, be sure to visit her webpage at http://www.butterfliesinthegarden.com.