The butterfly flew along the city streets looking for nectar. But here it was just streets and buildings, with only some grass growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. But then, as she came around a corner there was a balcony outside an apartment building with several pots of lilies, violets, and phlox. The butterfly alighted on one and drank her fill and as she did so, a child looked out the window at the etheral visitor. The temperatures are warming up, the flowers are blooming, and it’s time for the annual wildlife gardening article. As an apartment resident myself, I know small spaces are a limiting factor. Nevertheless, there are a number of plants which can be grown in the aforementioned smaller spaces and are a benefit to local wildlife. The first part of this article will focus on plants which stay especially small and so can be grown in a container and the second part will feature plants which get a little bigger, but are fine in a community garden plot.
Plants for an apartment balcony:
Yellow trout lily ( Erythoronium americnum)
This plant grows 3 to 6 inches tall, has yellow flowers in spring, prefers moist, shady conditions, and is native to Novia Scotia to Ontario to Minnesota to Florida.
Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
This plant grows 12 to 14 inches tall, has violet, lavender, or blue flowers in spring, prefers moist soil, and partial sun to shade. It is native to northwestern Vermont north to Quebec, west to Minnesota, and south to Georgia and Texas.
Moss Pink (Phlox subulata)
This plant grows 2 to 6 inches tall, has pink flowers in early spring, and prefers well drained soil in a sunny location. It is native to southern New York, west ot southern Michigan, south to North Carolina and Tennessee.
Stream violet or pioneer violet (Viola Glabella)
This plant grows 4 to 8 inches tall, has yellow flowers from March to July, and prefers moist soil with shade to part shade. It is native to the west coast east to Idaho and Montana. It is a larval host for the silver bordered fritillary butterfly.
Plants for a community garden:
Wild columbine or Canada columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
This plant grows 10-24 inches tall, has pale orange-red flowers in mid spring, and prefers well drained soil with partial sun to shade. It is also particulary popular with the ruby throated hummingbird.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
This plant grows 12 to 36 inches tall, has red to orange to yellow flowers in summer, and prefers well drained soil in a sunny location. It is native to Ontario and Quebec, south to Florida, and west to South Dakota and Minnesota and is also in the the Southwest. It is in the milkweed family and popular with many species of butterfly. I am growing it in my community garden plot this year.
Blue lupine (Lupinus Perennis)
This plant grows 14 to 30 inches tall, has red, violet, or white flowers from April to July, and thrives in acidic, infertile soil, though it can also do well in loamy soil. It is native to Ontario and Newfoundland south to Florida, and west to Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, and Minnesota. It is the exclusive food source for the endangerd Karner blue butterfly. In addition, it is also what is known as a nitrogen fixer which means it can put atmospheric nitrogen into a form which all plants can use and thus increases soil fertility.
Bee balm or Oswego tea (Monarda didyma)
This plant grows 36 to 48 inches tall, has red flowers in summer and prefers moist soil with partial sun to partial shade. As its name implies, it is very popular with bees and is native to Maine, south to northern Georgia, and west to Ohio, and Michigan. Its leaves can also be made into a tea which was a Native American remedy for sore throats. Admittedly, this is one of the larger plants I have included this year. However, I have successfully grown it in my community plot for the last few years and it is one of my favorites.
Narrowleaf milkweed or Mexican whorled milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
This plant grows 12 to 36 inches, has pale pink, purple, or white flowers from the summer to the fall, can tolerate either dry or moist soil, and prefers full sun. It is native to the west coast, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. As a member of the milkweed family, it is a larval host for Monarch butterflies.
While it is true that smaller spaces are a limiting factor for gardening, they can still provide green places, food sources for many pollinators, and a connection with the natural world. In our increasingly urban and technological world, it is more important than ever to have color amidst the pavement and see the butterfly on the flower. For a more comprehensive list of native plants, good resources are Native Plants of the Northeast: A guide to gardening and conservation by Donald J. Leopold and http://www.nwf. org/nativeplantfinder. Leopold’s book was the primary resource for this article and the National Wildlife Federation’s site will ask for a zip code and then provide a list of all plants native to that area. Happy Spring!