Garden Guy: Backyard Butterfly Adventure

By Norman Winter

A blog post in September rang like a rifle shot through our butterfly community. A very rare butterfly, a Tailed Cecropian, was seen at a banana brew feeding station in Starr County, south Texas. Before everyone could pack up and make the journey, an identical one was found at a similar feeding area at the National Butterfly Center where I was director. While you won’t find a Tailed Cercropian in North Texas, putting out a banana brew log or two in your garden may bring your family an outdoor adventure like you’ve never experienced.

 

The National Butterfly Center has 14 stations, selected tree trunks and fence posts where the banana brew was placed and almost every native plant a butterfly could love or need. Many butterflies love the sap or sugars that flow through a plant. Similarly, ripening fruit is also just as much of a temptation, as is the nectar that their counterparts relish.

 

 

At the Columbus Botanical Garden in Georgia, we had seven stations. You will only need one or two areas, depending on the size of your butterfly garden. We used 24 to 30-inch oak logs that were either attached to steel rebar rods or hung from trees with wire.

 

The recipe for Banana Brew is 10 overripe bananas, 1 pound of dark brown sugar, and one bottle or can of dark beer. You can also use yeast. The ingredients are mixed with a blender and put into buckets or containers to ferment. Be sure to leave room for expansion of the concoction and adequate ventilation. We added vent holes to our buckets, making this easy. The brew can be used right away or stored, just remember to vent. The stories of exploding buckets that weren’t vented or filled too full are both comical and legendary. We normally waited a couple of days and poured or brushed the brew onto the grooves that had been cut into the logs.

 

In South Texas, it seemed all of the rare butterflies were seen feeding on the logs. In Columbus, we had Red Admirals, Question Marks, Red-spotted Purples, Emperors and the incredibly beautiful Morning Cloak. The botanical garden at Clemson has had incredible success with the recipe as well. Who knows what will happen in your garden. Since you never really know what will be in your garden and it can change in minutes, it’s thrilling to sneak up on a log for the first look of the day (or in the late afternoon) when temperatures have subsided.

 

If you desire is to create an idyllic backyard wildlife habitat for your own outdoor adventure, I encourage the addition of a few feeding stations to go along with your plantings. Place them in the morning sun or filtered light like you would yard art where both you and your visitors can enjoy the experience. You can also visit the National Butterfly Center and the World Birding Centers in Mission and McAllen, Texas for the experience of a lifetime.

 

For questions on Banana Brew feeding, e-mail Norman at normanw@uga.edu,  or follow Norman Winter “The Garden Guy” on Facebook.

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