by Paul Cormacain 15/03/2003
THE sun is shining brightly today, it is warm, there is very little wind, and flowers in garden and countryside are looking their best.
Butterflies are very active, but though I have walked some number of kilometres today I only saw white butterflies. Large white butterflies, and small white butterflies, seem to be the flavour of the day. Of late they have been very active and any trip to field, park or garden will reveal the whites flying hither and thither.
For both varieties adult insects were first flying in May. These creatures mated then, laid eggs, and by the end of June all the adults were dead.
No octogenarians there.
From the eggs came the caterpillars. These creatures had an idyllic time, eating nasturtiums all day long, enjoying the weather, avoiding the odd bird that would eat the caterpillars. Actually, research shows that the birds are not too fussed on the large white larvae, and they can move around quite freely and safely.
They then went into the pupal state.
Both whites larvae has a reputation for fondness of the leaves of brassica. This explains why you can see the lady whites flying around cabbages as well as nasturtiums, and they are happy to lay their eggs on either.
They know that their young will eat well.
It also explains why some gardeners who grow cabbages have a distinct hostility for the whites. It also explains why farmers who grow brassica also dislike the large and small white butterflies.
You will still see white butterflies flying around wherever there is a field of cabbage, but the numbers will be less than decades ago, for the farmers can exercise more control over the flying insects.
By the end of September the whites will all have died off. They will have left eggs behind. These eggs will develop into larvae, and then pupae, and it is these pupae which will over-winter, eventually coming to life as butterflies next spring.
Nasturtium leaves used to be used more widely in salads than nowadays. But I still know people who pick them in the garden and pop them into the mouth. Lovely! But you have to make sure that there are no white butterfly eggs or caterpillars underneath the leaves. No one wants fresh meat that much!
Some of the most beautiful flowers are visible now. One particular flower that seems to more common then usual this year is the Himalayan balsam.
When I first started to see it decades ago it seemed to me then to be a rare flower. And perhaps it was. But now it is continuing to spread and give even more enjoyment to more people.
As its name implies, it is a foreign flower. It was first taken into England in 1839 and grown in glasshouses. At some stage it crossed the Irish Sea. At some stage it threw off the shackles of glasshouses and escaped into the wild.
It did a bit of modifying, a bit of adapting, then started to spread, and continues to spread.
As the flowers turn into seeds, the plant has a most unusual method of propagation. If you were to walk through a thicket of Himalayan balsam, whenever you came in contact with the seed the capsules would explode and shower you with seed. The seeds are good travellers.
So for another short while, be on the lookout for flying butterflies, and flying seeds.
Sundays to 31 August - Coney Island Boat Trips, contact Lough Neagh Discovery Centre for more details, phone 3832 2205.
Until Sunday 31 August - Wetlands Olympics at Castle Espie, more from 91874146.