Checkerspots and Buddleia

Euphydryas chalcedona - Variable Checkerspot
     Before moving to Mariposa in 2000 we lived in a small town out in the desert on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. As we were packing up our belongings for yet another move I noticed a small silvery plant in the vegetable garden. It looked so healthy and ready to grow I dug it up and took it along even though I had no idea what it was. Turns out it was Buddleia davidii, a Butterfly Bush. Cuttings of my Buddleia came along with us when we built our house in Bootjack in 2005 and eventually became the backbone of the garden. I first put several plants in front of the propane tank as a screen. They grew beautifully that year. Just as they were about to bloom, caterpillars attacked. Within a few weeks my beautiful stand of Buddleia was reduced to sticks. I had to laugh about it. Apparently my attempt to lure butterflies in had been successful.
Euphydryas chalcedona laying her eggs on Buddleia davidii
      The following year I watched as the butterflies laid more eggs. It turned out they were Variable Checkerspots, a common species in California. I had started more cuttings and by that time had about twenty plants going. With so much more food to work with, the damage wasn't nearly as bad. I decided to start more cuttings and live in peace with the beautiful Checkerspots. In dry years I would see more damage, and in wet years, less.
Checkerspot caterpillar eating Buddleia leaf
     One day I happened across a website from UC Davis. It was very nicely done and full of information. Since I didn't see Buddleia anywhere in the lists of host plants, I used the handy reply form to let them know. Apparently this was important scientific information and ended up being included in the Spring 2009 issue of News of the Lepidopterists' Society, a scientific journal. I got to be the co-author and they used my photos. My dad was so proud.

First year caterpillars before Winter dormancy
     By now the Checkerspots have become permanent residents in my garden. Recently I've seen on the internet that Buddleia davidii is considered an invasive species in several countries. I have no doubt that this is so. I've never seen a plant grow with quite so much vigor. If I had known this at the time I probably would have avoided growing Buddleia at all, and that would have been a shame. Buddleia is a great plant. Nothing is quite like it for bringing in nectar loving creatures. By luck, the plant that I dug up all those years ago is different. Only one seedling so far. It must have a naturally occurring low-fertility like the varieties they're selling now. I've also seen that some people consider it to be of no value to native wildlife. My Checkerspots and I have had a different experience.

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