Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Best Butterfly Host

Native Caper
Capparis arborea

If we all had a native caper of some kind - one of the Capparis species - in our gardens, we would never (except for a brief period in winter) be without butterflies.
Five local species of butterfly can only breed on caper trees, which are also called bumble trees, for their large, edible lumpy round fruits.

Two of them are pretty butterflies marked in black and yellow; the Caper White (Belenois java teutonica, previously Anaphaeis java teutonica) and the Caper Gull (Cepora perimale scyllara).
The caper white (right) is one of our most common butterfly species. It is a strong flyer, able to travel hundreds of kilometres. In some years enormous numbers of them fly over and through Queensland, delighting butterfly lovers, and providing food for many thousands of nesting birds.

The other three are rather undistinguished: the Chalk White (Elodina parthia) (at left); the Common Pearl White (Elodina angulipennis); the Narrow-winged pearl white (Elodina padusa). These can be a little difficult to tell at a glance from the feral cabbage white butterfly which is the most common white butterfly seen in our gardens.

In the bush, a concentration of fluttering white butterflies draws our attention to the presence of a caper tree. Having one in a garden would ensure that butterflies were present the whole season long, their fluttering hordes (and the birds they attract) being as much an ornament to the garden as the plant itself.
This native caper is in flower in Franke Scrub at the moment. It’s worth a visit, just to smell the strong, sweet perfume of the flowers. Each flower lasts only a day, but the tree still has hundreds of yet unopened buds so will continue to delight for some weeks.
Look for it on the northern edge of the scrub, close to the road. (You can see it easily from your car). It is a good specimen of this small tree species, showing the typical dense, shady canopy.
Capparis is a prickly genus. Tiny plants are very prickly indeed, with a pair of thorns at the base of each leaf. As adults, they lose the prickly habit to a certain extent, but if you examine the Franke Scrub caper tree you will still find traces of those paired thorns, which help to identify the tree.

There are lots of chrysalises on the Franke Scrub caper tree, and some evidence that caterpillars have been at work. I took this particular chrysalis home to see what would hatch out.

And here is the result.

(For more on native capers, see articles Sep09 and Dec08)
For directions to Franke Scrub, see article, Sep 09

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