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Orange Tips in the Garden

As a keen entomologist and organic gardener for many years, I have always encouraged plants such as Hedge Garlic in my garden, in the hopes of finding the tiny, first creamy then orange eggs of the orange tip butterfly deposited amongst the flower heads.

Most years at least  6-12 eggs are laid individually around the site, the butterflies always selecting the feeble individual plants as opposed to the healthy looking large plants growing well in clumps ! The catterpillars are cannibals, in their competition for food.

I also grow Hesperis (Sweet Rocket), Cardamines (Lady’s Smock and other Water Cresses) and Lunaria (Honesty), which are all said to be potential foodplants for this butterfly, though I have never yet seen any of them used in my garden, except by the Green Veined White and a few moth species.

There is however another plant called the American Land Cress, which is sometimes grown as a substitute for Watercress, but which grows in ordinary, quite dry soils. It is this plant that is the main reason for me writing this article, as an individual plant growing in a large pot last spring (2002) had about 8 butterfly eggs deposited on it which I had assumed were those of the Orange Tip.

I resisted the temptation to collect them and put them immediately into protective custody, and allowed them to develop outside for a while (they are a little difficult to look after, when very small, indoors anyway). They all hatched and fed well and I finally brought them indoors when they were reduced by predation to only 6 caterpillars. Later I was to find that only 3 were Orange Tips, the other 3 proved to be Green Veined Whites, I had wrongly assumed that egg laying on the flower heads meant Orange Tips !

The main point is that members can grow a plant that is edible, more attractive, and a bit smaller and tidier than Hedge Garlic, if they wish to attract these two lovely butterflies to their gardens. Best of luck !

M A Spencer