By Lankika de Livera
Do you dream of your own Garden of Eden with flowering
plants, buzzing bees, colourful butterflies and birds? It's possible
if you have plants that not only attract these creatures, but also
afford nourishment to their young, says Dr. Michael van der Poorten.
and his wife Nancy, currently in Sri Lanka to bring awareness on
butterfly conservation here feel the best way forward is to start
with our own gardens in the home or office.
Lankan-born Michael is based in Toronto, Canada where he works as
a consultant for IBM. Having a doctorate in plant physiology, he
has done extensive studies on butterflies in Sri Lanka and Canada
over the past 40 years and lectures interested groups on the subject.
Nancy is an expert on dragonflies.
in his khaki shorts, white banian and khaki hat (which he wears
even indoors), relaxing at his ancestral property on Hammaliya Estate
in Bandarakoswatte, Kurunegala, Michael explains that most common
and exotic ornamental plants do not attract butterflies.
is a myth that roses attract butterflies, he says. One has to choose
plants that will be host plants for the larvae of the butterflies,
for them to lay their eggs. Later the caterpillars should be able
to feed on those plants. Then when the butterfly emerges from the
chrysalis - there should be flowering plants in the garden that
will enable them to sip the nectar.
Michael came to Sri Lanka on his annual visit five years ago, he
realized there was a decline in the butterfly population. Growing
plants that butterflies need in his 40-acre coconut estate in Bandarakoswatte
was his answer. Now the plants are thriving and numerous butterflies
haunt his garden.
can replenish the wild butterfly population that is becoming extinct
if you rear them in your garden. We have to create the habitat for
them. On an individual basis we could have plants that attract these
creatures, however small the garden is," he says. But the garden
should not be completely open because butterflies need a certain
amount of shade to take refuge from the hot sun, he adds.
keen nature lover from an early age, Michael's interest in butterflies
dates back to his schooldays at Trinity College, Kandy. At Hammaliya
Estate, Michael has painstakingly selected and planted shrubs that
attract and nourish butterflies. Visitors are enthralled by the
profusion of butterflies gathered around his flowering plants and
the many chrysalises and cocoons of moths in the process of metamorphosis.
us on an educational butterfly walk through the forest at Arankele,
he told us of the various tricks adopted by different species of
butterflies for survival, why the ants eagerly wait to protect the
eggs of the Acacia Blue butterfly, how one can learn the subtle
differences in identifying butterflies, whether it is a male or
female, the life span and cycle of different butterflies, the reasons
why butterflies fly to mountains such as Adam's Peak and a host
of other amazing facts. And why do butterflies come out after about
ten o'clock in the morning? Because one of their predators, the
birds are gone by this time, he smiles.
with large gardens such as hotels, schools, churches, city parks,
cemeteries, the Zoo, etc can all attract butterflies by cultivating
the correct plants. Estate gardens where the greatest impact could
be got with border hedges which could have larval host plants and
nectaring plants are ideal too, he says. On hill-country tea estates,
he points out, one can see butterflies like the Indian Fritillary,
Red Admiral, The Common Hedge Blue, The Ceylon Tiger, The Tree Nymph
and the Ceylon Tree Brown. And different butterflies like different
elevations; some the open meadows, others forest boundaries and
yet others thick jungle.
Lanka has 245 recorded species of butterflies and around 2000 moths
but butterfly numbers have been dwindling due to deforestation and
cutting down of plants and shrubs that promote their breeding, Michael
should your garden grow?
For private gardens, Michael recommends two categories of
plants to attract butterflies. Larval host plants and nectaring
plants. Michael stresses the importance of having both; plants which
will attract the butterflies to lay eggs and start the butterfly
cycle as well as for them to feed on.
host plants are - 1) any member of the citrus family such as orange,
lime, narang, mandarin - these would attract the Lime butterflies,
the Common Mormons, Blue Mormon and the Lime Blue butterfly. 2.
Aristolochia (Sap Sanda) - which attracts the Common Rose, the Crimson
Rose and the Common Bird Wing. 3. Wild Ixora (not the ornamental
ones sold at plant sales) - attracts the Monkey Puzzle butterfly
and many other kinds of adult butterflies. 4. Dregea Volubilis (Kiri
anguna) which attracts the Blue Tiger and the Dark Blue Tiger. 5.
Loranthus (pila gas) is a parasite, but don't remove this plant
if you want the butterflies - it attracts the Common Jezebel, Peacock
Royal and the Red Spot. 6. The Ficus species will attract the Common
Indian Crow, the Double Branded Crow and the Brown King Crow.
plants as the name suggests, will have blooms which have plenty
of nectar for butterflies to feed on. For nectaring plants Michael
recommends Durantha (purple and white), Jatropha, Tridax, Wild Ixora,
Lantana (Gandapana), Hibiscus (only the commonly grown red variety),
Zinnias, Kalanchoe, Calotropis and Poinsettias. Wild Ixora plants
could be bought at the Ayurvedic Medicinal Garden at Nawinna (close
to the Arpico showroom).
other general plants he recommends as larval host plants are creepers
(sudu vellangiriya and kalu wellangiriya - which are thorny creepers),
wild passion fruit and cassia (Ranawara). As nectaring plants, Cape
Jasmin(Atteria), karapincha flowers ( attract lots of butterflies),
Tridax, Goda Rath Mal and many other wild flowers are ideal. For
more information check out Michael's website: www.srilankaninsects.net
Or e-mail email@example.com.