Giant Swallowtail and Hummingbird Moth – and Bergamot

Giant Swallowtail and Hummingbird Moth have at least two things in common: they have both been seen in Eliza Howell Park during the past week and they are both partial to the blossoms and nectar of Wild Bergamot.

Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in North America, with a wingspan of about 5 inches.


Southern Michigan is the northern edge of its normal geographical range and some years I do not see them at all in the park. Since July 15 this year, one and sometimes two have been flittering among the large wildflowers in the field outside the road loop. They stop their flight, when they do, on a Wild Bergamot flower.


It is, I think, a combination of their size and the fact that they are not common in Detroit that always make it exciting to see one.

The Snowberry Clearwing Moth is commonly called the Hummingbird Moth (a name I like) because it looks and acts a lot like a hummingbird. It flies from flower to flower, never landing, using its proboscis to sip nectar while it hovers in the air.


It is a daytime-active moth that shows up every year in Eliza Howell. Its wingspan is about 1 and 1/2 inches. Active among bumblebees, it somewhat resembles them, though it does not crawl over the flower as bumblebees do.


Wild Bergamot is one of the wildflowers, like Purple Coneflower, that is a magnet for butterflies, bees, and other insects. Bergamot is a type of Monarda, as is Bee Balm, a flower that many gardeners grow precisely because they want to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.


The Wild Bergamot in Eliza Howell is nearing the end of its blooming season, but it retains its power to attract.

Each of the butterflies in the next picture was photographed while visiting Bergamot. Starting top left and going clockwise: Black Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper, American Lady, and E. Tiger Swallowtail.


Giant Swallowtail and Hummingbird Moth have one other thing in common. They are both species that almost always elicit verbal responses and comments when seen: “look at that” or “what’s that” or “wow.”

They are currently entertaining in Eliza Howell Park, hosted by Wild Bergamot.

July Blooms and Butterflies: Part 2

In Part 1, I noted some of the most common wildflowers found in the park in mid-July. They will be there for the July 14 nature walk and the next time I go after that.

Butterflies, on the other hand, do not stay in one place. I am never entirely sure what I will see, though a few are seen almost every visit. Here are some often present in EHP in mid-July.

The first three can be considered large, as butterflies go.





E. Black Swallowtail



E. Tiger Swallowtail

The next 6 are smaller, but not among the many very small butterflies. I characterize them as mid-size.


Clouded Sulfur   Photo by Margaret Weber



Red Admiral



Little Wood-satyr



Cabbage White



Silver-spotted Skipper



Common Wood-nymph

The last two pictured here are small. There are almost always additional small butterflies flittering around that I am not able to identify.


Banded Hairstreak



Crescent       Photo by Margaret Weber

It is very difficult to tell the different between Pearl Crescent and Northern Crescent. They are very similar. I think the one in the photo might be a Northern Crescent, but Pearl Crescent is more common in southern Michigan and more likely to be seen in EHP in the summer.

I have always considered a day of seeing 6 or more different species of butterfly a very good butterfly day. On sunny days in July in Eliza Howell, there is often a very good butterfly day.

Canada Thistle: From Weed to Flower

Each year in late June, Canada Thistles bloom in Eliza Howell Park.


Six decades ago and more, one of the childhood chores for my brothers and me was to hoe weeds at our small farm. I remember Canada Thistle as the most dreaded weed; it grows in patches rather than as single plants, and as a result, it slowed me down when I wanted to reach the end of the row quickly.

They were the epitome of “weed.” That was then. Now, I enjoy Canada Thistle as a wildflower with blooms that attract a great variety of watchable insects. When I was young, I rarely noticed the flowers, perhaps because, doing our job well, the plants never got to mature to that point!

Note:  I am omitting – or rather postponing till later – observations on the important role these thistles play in the lives of American Goldfinches in Eliza Howell Park. This comes a little later in the season, when the plants begin to go to seed.

I saw my first Banded Hairstreak butterfly of the year this week in the thistle patch.


The thistle patch is one place I can get butterfly pictures with my phone camera; they are so focused on their food source that I am able to get close.

The following (Eastern Comma, Cabbage White, an unudentified Skipper, and Silver-spotted Skipper) were all photographed this week in the patch.





The thistles still have spines (what we probably called thorns when we were young), but they don’t seem to bother me now as I walk among the plants.


Below is a sampling of other pollinating insects present this week.


I have learned a few things about Canada Thistle that I didn’t know when I was attacking them with a hoe. One is that they spread by creeping roots, not just by seed; a single plant can colonize an area up to 6 feet in diameter in 2 years. The roots are both vertically deep and horizontally long. Now I know why they kept coming back even though they never went to seed!

The key difference between “a weed” and “a flower” is, it seems, whether it is wanted or not in a particular location. I still remove the thistle “weeds” from our garden, but in the natural areas of the park, l enjoy the thistle “flowers.”

July 14 Wildflower and Butterfly Walk: An Invitation

The middle of July is an excellent time to see blooming wildflowers in Eliza Howell Park and to look for the butterflies that are attracted to them.

Anyone interested is welcome to join us for a guided walk among the flowers on Saturday, July 14, at 11:00 a.m. We will meet about halfway around the road loop from the Fenkell entrance. This is a good occasion for taking pictures. Clothing appropriate for walking among the plants is recommended. Stay as long or as briefly as desired.