Friday, January 28, 2011


Having developed the habit of watching out for birds, then one is also likely to observe those other beautiful creatures on the wing, butterflies.

The Monarch butterflies are hard to miss as they float about our gardens, alighting on some flower or leaf, giving us time to observe and admire. They are just so voluptuous drifting about the garden before being carried off like any baggage by some male to keep sequestered. Our own endemic butterflies, the red and yellow admirals, however, are likely to be missed as they flit very quickly away before one has a chance to observe their beautiful colouring, the patterns of yellow and the red on black.

Gibbs, the grandson of our most illustrious entomologist G.V. Hudson, claims the Monarch is a native, having got here under its own steam, following the plantings of the milkweeds by missionaries across the Pacific Islands. However, with their legendary ability to fly over enormous distances, they may well have arrived in NZ somwhat earlier as Maori seem to have had knowledge of these butterflies, the larvae of which are able to survive on the leaves of gourds but need the milkweeds to thrive and multiply.

The yellow and red admirals on the other hand are without question endemic to New Zealand. Although they are not fussy about the nettles they need to sustain their larvae, whether or not they are native or introduced. I have to confess, I have been busy planting nettles under the trees at the back of the garden, not just to encourage the butterflies but also to eat myself.

Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis) vines grow all over Greytown, climbing over shrubs and trees and no doubt mistaken for some obnoxious weed to be rooted out. This little climber the copper butterflies favour but I have yet to see one in Greytown. Some bird though must find it useful as the plants keep coming up in my back yard so that I am now busy training some plants over the fence with the hope that some day some copper butterflies might turn up here.

I seem to remember clouds of small butterflies, blues and whites, arising out of the summer grass but haven't seen it in so many years I wonder if it was the stuff of dreams. The younger generations will never miss what they have never seen, and we will quickly forget.

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