Garden event highlights butterflies

Photo provided by SARAH RAYNER -- Butterflies will get their due at the Butterfly Awareness Event Sunday at the Baton Rouge Garden Center. Show caption
Photo provided by SARAH RAYNER -- Butterflies will get their due at the Butterfly Awareness Event Sunday at the Baton Rouge Garden Center.

Butterflies are beautiful, but bees get all the credit.

President of the Baton Rouge Garden Club and avid gardener Debbie Simmons Harris wants people to know that the insect isn’t just a pretty face.

“Butterflies are big pollinators. They go from place to place and carry (pollen) on their feet,” she said.

Harris plans to give the insects their due at the Butterfly Awareness Event Sunday at the Baton Rouge Garden Center.

Sarah Rayner, a science teacher at St. Michael the Archangel High School, and East Baton Rouge Parish School System Science Specialist Mary Legoria will give presentations about butterflies and plants. The event will also feature a butterfly costume parade and contest for children, plants and books for sale, and free informational brochures.

Like bees, the number of butterflies has dropped in recent years. The expansion of the human population around Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 brought more pollution, chemicals in the environment and mosquito spraying, all of which are bad for butterflies.

“Not as many (butterflies) are migrating here,” Harris said.

She has noticed decreases in fireflies, moths and dragonflies as well.

Chemicals used in gardening, even fungicides meant to control mold and mildew, can harm the insects. Anything in the soil gets into the plants that grow in it and when the butterflies feed off the plant, they ingest the chemicals, Harris said.

People can help increase the number of butterflies by using fewer chemicals in their gardens and also by putting in certain plants. Louisiana Nursery, the main sponsor of the event, has agreed to highlight butterfly-friendly plants in their stores.

Different kinds of plants serve particular purposes for butterflies. Some are “host plants.”

Fennel is one of the most common examples.

“Those are the ones butterflies lay their eggs on, which hatch out as caterpillars,” Harris said. Others, such as coneflowers and black-eyed susans, are nectar plants, providing food for butterflies.

Free handouts provided at the event detail the relationship between plants and butterflies as well as giving information about how to identify and cultivate butterfly eggs. People can build cages out of screen to house and protect caterpillars as they grow. When a butterfly first comes out of the chrysalis, it is very vulnerable for the first three hours or so.

“Being in a case gives it time to eat and grow and then it can be released,” Harris said.

Anyone interested in learning more about plants and insects is welcome to join the Baton Rouge Garden Club at their meetings at 9:30 a.m. on the third Friday of each month at the Garden Center.