In mid-June, when milkweed blooms in the Swan Lake meadow, great spangled fritillary butterflies gather in large numbers on the blossoms. Newly emerged from their cocoons, the bright orange butterflies drape the pink flowers, drowsily sipping nectar. Sunny meadows like this one are essential to the survival of the park's pollinators.
FRITILLARIES IN THE SWAN LAKE MEADOW
Rockefeller State Park is predominantly a woodland habitat. Many pollinators, particularly some species of butterflies, flourish in open woodlands and along sunlit forest edges – among these is the beautiful butterfly known as the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele). In late spring, 2015, the park saw a fluorescence of these butterflies. Visitors walking Brother's Path Trail were mesmerized by throngs of golden-orange fritillaries gathered in the Swan Lake meadow.
The park's butterflies and wild bees depend on wildflowers for nectar and pollen. After May, when the trees leaf out, wildflowers require more sunlight than is available in densely wooded habitats. Thus, small sunny areas that appear in forest clearings, such as woodland trail edges and meadows, are essential for the survival of pollinators.
The meadow at Swan Lake is one such place. In mid-June, an explosion of wildflowers in Swan Lake's meadow was attended by a corresponding surge of pollinators. On a single day in mid-June, visitors to the meadow identified thirty-four species of wildflowers in bloom, all of which are visited by pollinators--among them, great spangled fritillaries.
Fritillary butterflies emerge in spring and mate each summer in the park. In the fall, the females lay eggs in patches of woodland violets. The caterpillars hatch in autumn, but sleep through winter, awakening in spring just as woodland violets begin to sprout. All May, the caterpillars feed exclusively on a diet of violets. In early June, they spin chrysalises. One week later, fritillary butterflies emerge.
The meadow attracts great spangled fritillaries for a particular reason. Swamp milkweed and hemp dogbane begin flowering there in mid-June, just as adult fritillaries appear. The blossoms of these plants form broad landing platforms that make drinking flower nectar easier for butterflies. Great spangled fritillaries gather in spring wherever milkweed and dogbane abound.
Each period of fluorescence in the meadow creates small ecosystems in which pollinators forage for nectar. The photo gallery below offers a sample of the mini-landscapes in which fritillary butterflies -- as well as bees and other small creatures -- found sustenance in Swan Lake's meadow in June, 2015.
Swan Lake at Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Newly emerged from their cocoons, great spangled fritillaries hang drowsily from milkweed in Swan Lake's meadow.
A banded hairstreak rests on a milkweed beneath a group of fritillaries. Like fritillaries, the banded hairstreak forages for nectar near woodlands. The hairstreak caterpillar's host plants are oak and hickory trees.
A fritillary sips nectar in a forest of dogbane.
The beautifully iridescent dogbane leaf beetle feeds exclusively on the leaves of dogbane. The plant, whose Latin name (apocynum) means, "Away, Dog!" is very bitter and toxic and generally avoided by mammals.
A honey bee on flowering dogbane
A soldier beetle forages for nectar on dogbane. Soldier beetles, relatives of the firefly, are key pollinators of spring flowering trees, among them dogwood.
Spring azure butterflies like this one hover in large numbers around the meadow's dogbane throughout its blooming season, sipping nectar from the flowers.
A fritillary patrolling the meadow stops to sip nectar from a thistle.
Thistles in the Swan Lake meadow
St. John's Wort in the Swan Lake meadow
Swamp milkweed in the Swan Lake meadow
OF THE SWAN LAKE MEADOW
Below is a list of wildflowers in Swan Lake meadow that were found to be in bloom on
a single day in mid-June. (Many of these are shown at right.)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
Bluet (Houstonia serpyllifolia)
Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus )
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Dwarf Red Blackberry (Rubus pubescens)
Grass Pink (Dianthus armeria)
Hairy Woodmint (Blephilia hirsuta)
Hemp Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum)
Meadow Rue (Thalictrum)
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Thistle (non-native) (Cirsium arvense)
Toadflax, aka Butter & Eggs (linaria vulgrus)
Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum)
White Campion (Silene alba)
White Clover (Trifolium repens)
White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus)
Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
Wild Basil (Clinopodium Vulgare)
Wild Blackberries (Rubus spp.)
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild Rose (Rosa virginiana)
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta L.)
While these late-spring flowers blossom in
the meadow, summer bloomers leaf out in preparation for the next succession of wildflowers. New species appear with the passing of each summer month. Even in late summer, when comparatively few wildflowers are in bloom in the forested areas of the park, the same meadow is carpeted with late-blooming asters and goldenrod.