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A whimsical journey on the wings of a butterfly

By Susan Eastman

"Glassberg's [Miami blue] group appears exclusionary; they want no breeders or collectors, for example," says Ron Gatrelle, an MBPP member and president of the International Lepidoptera Survey, which is based in South Carolina. "This leads me to view the Glassberg group as politically motivated and a narrow, extremist environmentalist group. We are broad-based, inclusive, and conservation-minded. They have chosen to not work with us. We have been and are willing to work with all. To put it bluntly, this whole thing is stupid. It is childish and petty turfism on their part."

Lana Edwards is butterfly-crazed. She has butterfly knobs on her kitchen cabinets, butterfly dishes (and not just one set), butterfly cups and saucers, pots and pans, napkins, place mats, butterfly salt and pepper shakers, and butterfly magnets on the refrigerator. She has butterfly umbrellas stuffed into three ceramic butterfly umbrella holders in her living room, butterfly finials on her lamps, butterfly pillows on the sofa, a butterfly letter holder, butterfly tongs, butterfly candleholders, and even a butterfly shower curtain and butterfly towels. In her library, she has more than 25 butterfly books, including the 1898 The Butterfly Book by W.J. Holland. She wears butterfly earrings every day and has a formidable collection of butterfly T-shirts and blouses. "I am a self-confessed butterfly fanatic," Edwards says after giving a tour of her lair.

Colby Katz
Lana Edwards and her daughter Alana have counted 45 species flitting through the butterfly garden with a butterfly-shaped pond at their Delray Beach home
Colby Katz
Lana Edwards and her daughter Alana have counted 45 species flitting through the butterfly garden with a butterfly-shaped pond at their Delray Beach home

Before butterflies invaded her world, Lana led a fairly sedentary life. She cleaned her house more than she does today, she admits. She read. And she worked as a legal assistant. The home she and her husband, David, own in the Tradewinds subdivision, just east of U.S. 1 north of Delray Beach, was similar to others on the block. A swath of St. Augustine grass dotted with groupings of ornamental plants provided a green canvas for a two-story home with a brick façade. Lana, who was known in the family for her brown thumb, thought of the yard mostly as decoration or didn't think about it much at all.

Today, her yard is the pride of her butterfly world. And the way she looks at vegetation has changed completely. "I can't look at a plant without wondering if there is a butterfly or some other creature that depends on that plant for its life," she says. "Before, the plants were just kind of there."

She finds monarch caterpillars on the milkweed and Cassius blue butterflies flitting around the firebush seeking nectar. Recently, a Horace's duskywing laid an egg on the native laurel oak. It was a moment of great excitement for Lana, David, and their daughter Alana. "We have seen the butterfly in the yard before," Lana explains. "But we haven't seen one lay an egg. It is exciting because it may mean that the Horace's duskywing is going to establish a residence in our yard."

The Edwardses began their metamorphosis on a visit to Walt Disney World about ten years ago. Alana bought a packet of butterfly nectar plant seeds in a gift shop as a Christmas present for her grandmother, Eula Smoot. Alana, who was living in a butterfly-unfriendly high-rise apartment in Chicago while attending the University of Illinois, had seen a television show on butterfly gardening and spoke enthusiastically of it to her parents. Lana and her husband took a course in butterfly gardening at Butterfly World, and Lana read up on the subject. When Alana returned home for Memorial Day, the family went shopping for butterfly-friendly plants. In the fall, Alana returned home to finish her degree in Spanish at Florida Atlantic University. That's when Lana and Alana began transforming the family's yard in earnest from suburban wasteland to fecund habitat.

From the street, the Edwards yard doesn't appear unique. A swath of St. Augustine sod still provides a green backdrop for groupings of plants and shade trees. But now the plants have been carefully arranged and selected to provide larval food for specific caterpillars and nectar plants for Lepidoptera.

Close to the house is a large clump of blue-flowering plumbago, the baby food for the Cassius blue butterfly. A large firebush is a favorite nectar plant for many butterflies that visit the yard. The centerpiece is a waterfall cascading into a butterfly-shaped pond created from oolite limestone. Around the edges, Lana and Alana built a bog-like ecosystem filled with water-loving plants, such as the long-stemmed and purple-flowered pickerelweed, a nectar source for many butterflies, including the palmades swallowtail. On the edges of the pond grow native iris, milkweed, and a low-growing, flowering weed commonly called creeping Charlie. The pool is partially shaded by a willow tree, where the viceroy butterfly lays its eggs and upon which its caterpillars feed.

If plants that Lana knows are good food sources for caterpillars or butterfly nectar plants find their way into the yard, she makes way for them. She points to a clump of milkweed growing on the edge of her driveway. "That's not really where I want milkweed, but I left it there for my queens and monarchs," she says. With all the food plants for caterpillars, Lana admits, her yard sometimes appears ragged. She no longer believes that a yard must be immaculately groomed. That is part of her compact with the insect. "When you butterfly-garden, you have chewed-on leaves," she says. "You can't be too fussy about keeping everything perfect."

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