Question Mark basking in the sun here forms a
unique shadow on the small tree.
before the first cold weather of fall I saw a butterfly
on one of our large oaks. I knew what it was from across
our cottage garden, it was a Question Mark. When I
showed the photo to a couple of staffers, it was like
eyes were opened up for the first time. With amazement
they asked if I had found that butterfly in our garden.
I did and there is a very good chance you can too if you
pay attention this year.
a doubt the Question Mark is one of our most beautiful
butterflies. It is found throughout the eastern half of
the United States. Even though it is so prevalent over
such a wide range, my seminar audiences are a lot like
those staffers; they seem shocked that there is such a
butterfly moving about in their neighborhood. So this
week instead of writing about some plant or
horticultural technique. I thought I would prime you for
butterfly season with the idea of getting you to notice
and appreciate butterflies other than just Monarchs and
Question Mark gets its name from the white question
mark-like marking seen when its wings are folded. But I
even have an appreciation for its scientific name,
Polygonia interrogationis. When the wings are folded,
your first inclination would be to think that you are
looking at an old leaf stuck to the tree limb or shrub.
But when those wings open up, the butterfly loverís
cameras go off with the sound of rapid fire shutters.
the Monarch butterfly must have milkweed and Gulf
Fritillary, a passionflower vine, the Question Mark has
a few more options. If you have an elm tree, you are
probably in luck. In fact, the American elm, red elm and
even the lacebark or Drake elm all provide larval food
for the Question Mark. Even the hackberry, which is
considered a trash tree by many in the landscape trade,
is a treasured host plant.
the good news goes further as nettles and false nettles
like the Boehmeria cylindrica also provide caterpillar
food. Would you believe the latter is native in all but
seven states? I suppose if there was bad news it would
be that the female doesnít lay the eggs on the host
plants and that the caterpillars must find it.
are generally two broods a year, giving the butterflies
two different appearances, a summer form and a winter
form. Adults of the summer form have dark burgundy to
almost black hindwings. The adults of the winter form
have longer tails, colored reddish orange with dark
watched them in the brutal heat of south Texas, along
bayous in Louisiana and now several times in Georgia.
They have almost always been seen on sap, rotting fruit
or homemade banana brew. Only once have I caught them on
nectar and that was on a buttonbush. They are reportedly
seen on dung if available.
winter has departed and you are out and about in the
landscape, pay attention to those old trees that ooze a
little sap and see if you might catch one of the most
beautiful butterflies in the world, the Question Mark,
doing a little feeding. The western United States has a
close cousin that is equally striking called the Satyr
Comma, Polygonia satyrus.