My home and garden are situated next to an open meadow, and within that meadow grows lots and lots of vetch! The vetch (vicia spp.) also shows up at the edges of my cultivated areas, but early on, while the plants are still small I pull some of it.
The Lycaenidae family of butterflies—blues, hairstreaks, coppers, and metalmarks, are usually small and very delicate looking, many of them brilliantly colored and some with very interesting life cycles. The apparent fragility of these tiny creatures earned the family the common name gossamer-winged but the vigor apparent in their life strategies belies this moniker.
Within the family Papilionidae are some of the largest and most spectacular butterflies in the world. Four species are commonly seen in Marin; each one associated with a particular type of habitat. Three are yellow with black markings; the Western Tiger Swallowtail, with a nearly 4" wingspan is the largest butterfly in Marin; and the Pipevine Swallowtail is the only large 'blackish' butterfly in Marin.
One of the most common butterflies we see around Marin is the Cabbage White; and it has the distinction of being the only naturalized exotic butterfly in our area. This species has successfully established itself over the entire continent since its apparent introduction from Europe into southeastern Canada in the mid 1800's. Most likely it was imported as larvae, hidden within the leaves of a cabbage plant. People called them 'cabbage worms', and since they fed on food crops, they were considered pests.
There are three closely related 'Ladies' that are easy to provide for in a habitat garden; the Painted Lady, the American Lady, and the West Coast Lady; however, they are not always easy to tell apart. Personally, I’m happy to see any and all of the butterflies coming to my garden for resources, and when I notice a medium-sized orangey butterfly I can be pretty sure it is one of the ‘ladies’. They often don’t sit still long enough, or with their wings held just so, to easily identify the characteristic field marks.
Other Larval Host Plants
Painted lady larva will also feed on weedy thistles in the Cirsium and Silybum genera, as well as the dreaded Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), and related cultivated plants like Artichoke and Cardoon. The larvae also feed on other members of the Aster/Sunflower family such as yarrows and sunflowers.
The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is the most cosmopolitan of all butterflies on earth. This butterfly is widely distributed all over the Northern hemisphere, and can be seen in all types of habitats except dense forests. Painted Ladies lay their eggs on many different plants, and their larvae feed on a wider variety of plants (polyphagus) than most other butterfly species.