Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sphinx Moths

I am frequently asked about sphinx moths, the most common question, “What is that furry flying creature nectaring at the butterfly bushes?” This week’s column is a recycled version of an older article on sphinx moths, which I hope you will find helpful. Photos of an unusual red form of the Virginia creeper sphinx moth caterpillar, and the eclosed adult, are also included.

We were delighted with the sheer numbers of Snowberry and Hummingbird Clearwing moths nectaring in our gardens this past summer. There were so many clearwings nectaring on a butterfly bush at Willowdale one afternoon that I actually saw two sort of crash into each other. I’ve sent for several snowberry bushes (Symphoricarpos albus var. albus) from a reputable mail order source and will keep you posted on their culture. Snowberry bushes are often seen in older gardens. They are a suckering shrub ideal for a dry, partly shaded location. They eventually grow to five feet, possibly higher. The bush has a lovely habit when, in late summer, the branches arch from the weight of the popcorn-look-alike plump white berries, and are juxtaposed against the deep green opposite leaves. Symphoricarpos albus var. albus is the species native to eastern regions of the United States; Symphoricarpos var. albus var. laevigatus is native to the Pacific Northwest. Snowberry, a member of the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family), is a larval host plant for both the Hummingbird and Snowberry clearwing moths and the berries are an important winter food source for quail, grouse, and pheasant. Attention backyard gardeners: unfortunately snowberry is listed by the U.S. federal government as endangered in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Maryland, Illinois, and extirpated in Ohio.

I love plants that have a suckering habit because once they become established, as with our native spiraea (Spiraea latifolia), it is rewarding to dig up a clump and passalong to a fellow gardener. I am looking forward to receiving our suckering snowberry bushes!

I will be signing books at the Ipswich Garden Club’s much anticipated annual plant sale, this coming Saturday morning, beginning at 9:00 am. The plant sale is at the Hall-Haskell House/ Visitors Center.

This weekend only, the Wenham Museum is holding a new fundraising event titled Tablescapes, featuring table settings designed by local businesses. Briar Forsythe, the proprietor of Willowdale Estate, and I have partnered to create what we are calling an Alfresco Birthday Party in the Butterfly Courtyard Garden. For more information about Willowdale Estate, a full service special events venue, and their butterfly and songbird garden I designed, visit my webpage at Willowdale Estate. For more information about Tablescapes, visit the Wenham Museum’s website.

[Kim Smith is the author of Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!]

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