Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Bringing butterflies into your garden

The larger the variety of suitable butterfly larval food plants and plants to provide the adult butterflies with nectar that are introduced into the garden, as well as the more natural it is laid out the bigger the variety of butterflies that will be attracted into it. 
Mother of Pearly Butterfly Protogoniomorpha parhassus aethiops
My own interest in butterflies started as a young child but was really awakened after I was told about the “Garten der Schmetterlinge” http://www.gartenderschmetterlinge.de/  the butterfly garden which had been established in the historical glasshouse of Otto von Bismarck at Friedrichsruh just outside of Hamburg in Germany by Geoff Nichols.  On my next trip to Germany in July 1989 with a wife heavily pregnant with our first child we ventured off from Wilhelmshaven to go and visit the “Garten der Schmetterlinge”. All I can say is that our visit to the “Garten der Schmetterlinge” was a life changing experience which changed my view towards butterflies considerably. Since then my interest in butterflies was really awakened, I started noticing butterflies where I had not noticed them before, I started to note what plants that they laid their eggs on, I started to collect the plants they use as larval host plants and to breed butterflies for release. Now everywhere I go I see butterflies that I never saw before, since then I have gone out of my way to provide conditions in my own garden to attract butterflies.

Below are a few photos of some the most common butterflies that are very easy to attract into any garden in the Durban Area including some of their larval food plants.

The African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius
In my garden this spectacular butterfly is probably the most numerous and is seen for most of the year nearly always feeding on or fluttering around the African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus which is its chief host plant. I have also seen it lay its eggs on and have seen caterpillars on two other species of plants within the family Apocynaceae being Stapelia gigantean growing on my roof garden as well as Xysmalobium undulatum 

African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius

Xysmalobium undulatum on of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
Stapilia gigantea another of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius pupa with the butterfly just about ready to emerge
African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus larval food plant for the African Monarch Butterfly
The Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria belonging to the family Nymphalidae 
The larvae of the Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria 
Blue Pansy Butterfly Junonia oenone oenone
Brown Pansy Butterfly Junonia natalica natalica                    
Asystasia gangetica is the larval host plant for both the Blue and the Brown Pansy Butterfly

There are also some very beautiful moths both day flying as well as nocturnal as well as their caterpillars that can be attracted into your garden by supplying the right larval host plants such as the ones in the photos below.

Heady maiden Moth Amata cerbera is a day flying moth
Peach Moth Egybolis vaillantia caterpillar also a day flying specie
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi catepillar feeding on Tree Fuschia Halleria lucida
My own garden is home and a stop over refuge to a huge variety and number of butterflies as a result of the plants that I have introduced.

From my own observations I believe that grasses play and important role on attracting a number of butterfly species into the garden. I have observed how butterflies are attracted in particular to the tall growing grasses in particular grasses of the genus Hyparrhenia (Thatching grasses) often spending hours just flying around them or perched on them. Therefore I recommend that some suitable grasses be incorporated into ever garden designed to attract butterflies.

For those who are interested in attracting butterflies to their gardens below are a few colourful plants that can be grown in a garden designed to attract butterflies I have added the colourful Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii which adds such a dramatic splash of colour in the autumn. Many other bright colourful flowering plants can be added that are not necessarily attractive to butterflies but which will add interest colour and be an attraction for other species of wildlife.

For those who need a litle help in making their garden attactive to butterflies I can design and establish a garden for you that will attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Plumbago auriculata an attractive butterfly larval food plant used by the Common Blue Cyclyrius pirithous
Natal Red Grass Melinis nerviglumis, grasses play a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
In particular this grass Hyparrhenia hirta plays a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
The flowers of Vernonia natalensis are very attractive to butterflies
The flowers of Delospermun linearumattract butterflies and many other insects
This Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii may not attract any butterflies but will atract bees and sunbirds and will certainly brighten up the Garden in the autumn
Ruellia cordata is one of the larval food plants used by the Yellow Pansy butterfly
The spectacular African Dog Rose Xylotheca kraussiana is the larval host plant of the bright red and black Acraea petraea
No garden is complete without a gardener. Here my gardener Mbuzi smelling the inflourescence of the grass Melica racemosa

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist

Tel: +27 82 061 2593


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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Brachiaria brizantha Common Signal Grass

Brachiaria brizantha
Common Signal Grass, Bread Grass, Palisade Grass

German:  Palisadengras

Urochloa brizantha
Panicum brizanthum

Common Signal Grass Brachiaria brizantha

Brachiaria brizantha is native to Africa being found growing naturally in Sub-Saharan Africa from S 25º to N 12º, from the coast–7000 feet above sea level. in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya,  Zaire, Zambia, Ghana, Guinea, Côte D'Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cameroon , Ethiopia .
Brachiaria brizantha is widely naturalised throughout the humid and sub-humid tropics.

Morphological description
Brachiaria brizantha is a loosely tufted perennial with short rhizomes and erect or slightly decumbent stems 60–150 cm high (occasionally to 200 cm).  Leaves are flat, bright green up to 20 mm wide and up to 100 cm long. Brachiaria brizantha may be hairless or hairy.  Inflorescence is a racemose panicle consisting of 2–16 racemes, 4–20 cm long and elliptical spikelets 4–6 mm long, with no hairs or a few hairs at the tip.  Spikelets are normally a single row, with a purple, crescent-shaped rachis 1 mm wide.  Glumes and lower lemma are cartilaginous in texture.

Agricultural uses
Brachiaria brizantha has been planted as permanent pasture for grazing and cutting for fresh feed in many countries.  It is also planted as a pasture under plantation crops and as a ground cover for erosion control. An estimated 60 million hectares is under cultivation in Brazil for beef production.

Soil requirements
Brachiaria brizantha grows on a wide range of free-draining soils with pH 4–8, textures ranging from light to heavy and fertility from high to low, including acidic soils with high soluble Aluminium concentrations.  Tolerance to Magnesium varies among accessions.  Brachiaria brizantha shows a minor response to lime on acid soils. 
Brachiaria brizantha generally needs medium to high soil fertility to be productive. 

Brachiaria brizantha is best adapted to the humid and sub-humid tropics with 1,500–3,500 mm average annual rainfall, but will also grow in the more arid regions of the tropics with rainfall somewhat below 1,000 mm.  Brachiaria brizantha can withstand dry seasons of 3–6 months during which the leaf may remain green while other tropical species have browned off.  Brachiaria brizantha is not well adapted to wet poorly drained soils.

Brachiaria brizantha is a warm-season grass for the lowlands, altitudes to 2,000 m in the tropics but only to 1,000 m in higher latitudes.  Leaf is frost-sensitive, but the plant survives light frost.

Brachiaria brizantha is moderately shade tolerant compared with other tropical grasses.

Brachiaria brizantha can tolerate frequent heavy defoliation due to grazing or cutting. 

Brachiaria brizantha does recover after fire but annual burning is detrimental .

Establishment and management of sown pastures.
When establishing large areas with Brachiaria brizantha the only viable option is by means of seed.  Fresh seed of Brachiaria brizantha will not germinate due to physiological dormancy and must be stored for 6–9 months or acid-scarified before sowing.  Seed should be broadcast at 2–4 kg/ha onto a well-prepared seedbed and then lightly harrowed and rolled to incorporate.
In Brazil smallholders establish Brachiaria brizantha vegetatively from rooted tillers.

Brachiaria brizantha is very responsive to the application of nitrogen rich fertilisers.

Brachiaria brizantha shows a degree of allelopathy which helps prevent the invasion of weeds into planted pastures and often cause it to form pure stands in natural grassland. In trials shoots of Brachiaria brizantha which were incorporated into the soil were found to inhibit the growth of several plant species.

Environmental value
Brachiaria brizantha is favoured by grazing animals and the seed is sought after by birds, bees are attracted to the inflorescence for the pollen.

Landscape Value
Brachiaria brizantha is an attractive grass that could very well have use in landscape design

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist



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