I have been "into" butterflies for at least 15 years now. My yard is filled with plants that attract them. I have learned to identify the ones commonly seen here. These include Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger Swallowtails, Buckeyes and Fiery Skippers.
It is obvious from my own observation, that there is a whole lot of variation in the population and distribution of butterflies in the Central Valley. For example, there have been years in which I saw no yellow and black swallowtails in Turlock. This summer, however, there were quite a few of these large, beautiful creatures flying around town. And every few years a migration of Painted Ladies comes through our area.
For me, 2015 has been the Year of the Gulf Fritillary. These are lovely orange butterflies, trimmed in a little black and having metallic silver spots on the underside of the wings. You might mistake one for a Monarch, if you are not careful. They are also known as Passion Butterflies — much easier to say and to spell.
My nature-loving friend John Clark introduced me to Gulf Fritillaries about three years ago. They were attracted to the passion vines in his yard. These plants are the host plants for these butterflies.
According to my research, this species is not usually found this far north. John told me that he had not seen them since he was a kid on the coast. (Forgive me, John, but that's been forty plus years ago, right?) To my knowledge, I had never seen one before.
The next summer there were even more Passion Butterflies hanging around the Clarks' yard. Then, in the spring of 2014, John gave me a small cutting from one of his passion vines — a hybrid "Maypop," I think. I planted it at the base of a dead plum tree stump in my yard. What has happened since then has been truly amazing and a wonderful blessing. I literally have a "Butterfly Factory" out back.
My vine grew and grew this summer and has produced hundreds of gorgeous purple blooms. My daughter Joan calls them "alien" flowers. Somehow the fritillaries find the passion vines. I have seen up to 12 flying around my vine at once. Females are frequently laying eggs on the plant and it is covered with orange and black caterpillars. There are chrysalides, cocoons, everywhere: hanging on leaves, bark, garden tool handles, a bird feeder and nearby windowsills. And it is special to be able to see brand new butterflies emerge.
I don't know how long my" factory" will continue producing. At some point it will surely become too cold. But for now, I am grateful and delighted!