By Keith Purtell
More than two dozen people braved rain and snow Saturday to attend a workshop at Honor Heights Park on attracting butterflies to gardens.
The Friends of Honor Heights Park and Muskogee Parks and Recreation plan a butterfly house next to the gift shop at the park.
The workshop was for gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts who wanted to learn more about attracting the small, colorful insects.
Donna Ausmus, 71, said she has had a life-long curiosity about gardens.
“I’d like to have more butterflies,” she said. “We have a regular-sized lot, but I love flowers and having creatures in my garden.”
Allene Parker of Porter came away from the workshop with small samples of parsley, Dane’s rocket, and violets — all guaranteed to attract butterflies once planted and mature.
“I’ve been interested in butterflies all my life, but never knew what to plant,” she said. “My mother always had a flower garden just for that. I’m a country girl.”
Matthew Weatherbee, a member of the parks board and president of the Friends of Honor Heights Park, said the butterfly house to be built beside the gift shop will be specially designed.
“It will be open to the elements but will have a net over it to create a captive area,” he said. “When you enter, butterflies will start lighting on your shoulder and head. We will have another attraction to bring tourists to our city. This is a $400,000 project, and our goal is to get that funded privately.”
Martha Stoodley, secretary of the Friends of Honor Heights Park, gave a detailed presentation about how to make a garden butterfly-friendly.
“There are a lot of skippers in Oklahoma that look like a cross between a moth and a butterfly,” she said. “They like to feed on grasses.”
Stoodley distributed a list of flowers that attract butterflies. It included sedum, chrysanthemum, cornflower, daffodil, lemon balm, oriental poppy, sunflower, rosemary and thyme.
“Butterflies come out as soon as it’s 60 degrees; they rely on the sun to warm them,” she said. “They need rocks or fence posts in the sun to warm them. Butterflies can see in ultraviolet and use that to recognize each other.”
Stoodley said the shape of flowers has a lot to do with whether butterflies will visit them.
“Typical butterfly-friendly plants have a trumpeted blossom,” she said. “When the butterflies drink the nectar, they have a proboscis that unrolls into the nectar, and then rolls back up.”
Butterflies need shelter to rest and hide from predators and high winds, Stoodley said, adding that Oklahoma is home for a wide variety.
“There are more than 255 species of butterflies native to Oklahoma because of our unique ecosystem,” she said. “But once you get over to Oklahoma City, it’s too hot and dry.”
Stoodley said butterflies have been around a long time, and butterfly fossils in Colorado are 85 million years old. She added that butterflies are well adapted to find a good place to breed.
“The female butterfly looks for plants to lay her eggs,” she said. “She tastes the plant for toxicity, and she uses her back feet to taste for predators that might have been there.”