Creatures For The Soul

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 5, 2003

For many people, as close and personal as they get with butterflies is peeling them off the grill of their car.

But, not for Dawn and John Curry Key. They spend their summer surrounded by "some of God's most beautiful creatures."

The ancient Greeks believed that the human soul leaves the body in the form of a butterfly.

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Not many people subscribe to that theology, but Dawn agrees that watching these colorful, graceful creatures is good for the soul.

"We have a bench near our butterfly bush and we sit out there almost every day and watch the butterflies," Dawn said. "We planted zinnias and butterfly bushes because they are pretty and because they attract butterflies. We enjoy watching them and seeing how many different kinds we can attract."

Dawn laughingly admitted that she doesn't know the species of all the butterflies that flutter around her house at China Grove, but that really doesn't matter. She knows beauty when she sees it. And butterflies are beautiful.

"We have about 15 different butterflies that come around here," she said. "And, it's interesting that one day there will be a lot of yellow ones and the next day most of them will be orange or some other color. The prettiest butterfly is a bright blue one"

But, then, there's not an ugly one in the bunch. With all the different colors, the butterflies are a fluttering bouquet around the butterfly bush that is bursting with an array of color of its own.

"The butterfly bush has three colors of blooms," Dawn said. "One has purple, another white and a third, pinkish-rose. And, it's strange but the butterflies seem to like the white blooms best. Maybe it's because

white doesn't absorb the heat the way the darker colors do, so they are cooler when the butterflies light on them."

Not only are butterflies pretty, they are also useful pollinators, said Alvin Diamond, director of the Arboretum at Troy State University. Although butterflies aren't as important in the pollination process as other insects, they do play a role as they move from one bloom to another.

Perhaps, butterflies play a more important role in the food chain than in pollination.

"Butterflies contribute to the food chain and are popular dining for birds, reptiles and even some mammals," Diamond said.

Butterflies are also good citizens. Unlike their destructive kin-flies, the moths, butterflies are rarely destructive to crops, home gardens and ornamental plants.

Diamond said attracting butterflies is relatively easy if the right plants are used.

"You should first find out which butterflies are native to your area and the types of plants and flowers those butterflies like to eat," he said. "Then pick out a sunny site because the sun will be good for both the butterflies and the plants."

Diamond said that it's a good idea for the garden to be protected against strong winds.

A butterfly garden should include food plants from the butterflies and their young caterpillars.

The young are choosy about what they eat. Most of the time caterpillars like wild plants such as Queen Anne's lace. To attract butterflies, Diamond said a garden filled with daylilies, lantana, zinnias, geraniums, phlox, marigolds, salvia, violets, aster, blue sage, honeysuckle and pale lavender will guarantee butterfly visitors.

Like most other creatures, butterflies get thirsty.

A shallow pan or plate filled with water will quench their thirst and keep them coming around.

Butterflies like to rest their wings from time to time. A sun-warmed stone or board is ideal. Stones placed around the garden make comfortable resting spots for the winged beauties.

Diamond said as estimated 700 species of butterflies live in North America north of Mexico. In Florida 97 species of butterflies are known to occur as breeding populations with an additional 26 species recorded but not breeding. A similar number can be expected for Alabama, he said.

With that many possibilities, it should be easy to attract a "flock" of butterflies and beautify your surroundings at the same time, Diamond said.