As well as hosting our AGM, the Laing gave us the opportunity to hear a lovely talk by Jaci Beavan, one of the volunteers at the Alnwick Garden.
As usual with all Plant Heritage events, I came away learning many new things. For example, there is no scientific difference between butterflies and moths, and in fact it’s fiendishly difficult to see the difference unless you have a magnifying glass (moths have a swollen bit on the end of their antenna, butterflies don’t). And on top of that, there are thousands of species of moths in the UK, but only hundreds of butterflies. Who would have thought?
Yet even though there are ‘only’ hundreds of different species of butterflies, their habits are very wide ranging. For example, they don’t all over winter as pupae – some overwinter as adults, some as eggs and some as larvae. The shortest lived species lives only 2 weeks, whilst the longest lives for a rather amazing 11 months! And their size ranges from the Swallowtail which has a wingspan of 90mm (about the size of my hand), to the Small Blue, which will fit inside a buttercup.
Each butterfly also has a ‘nectar’ plant and a ‘food’ plant. Nectar plants are the plants that adult butterflies feed on. Although the butterflies have preferences, they will actually take nectar from just about any plant they can find. But the ‘food’ plant, which is the plant that the caterpillars feed on, is very specific. Although as gardeners we may think that all a caterpillar needs is access to our prize cabbage, in actual fact the most popular food plant is the humble nettle, which provides food for the caterpillars of the Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock and many many others. What better reason could you need for growing a nettle patch in that unloved corner of your garden?