The Rare Karner Blue Butterfly is Making a Comeback!

male_karner_blue_lg

The rare Karner Blue Butterfly has been in the news lately, with a featured article in The Wall Street Journal, no less (thanks to Joey for alerting me, via twitter!). Although this diminutive beauty has become extirpated from Massachusetts, it has been successfully reintroduced to New Hampshire!

RecoveryMap1Historic Range of the Karner Blue

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department says “good weather, coupled with help extending the butterfly’s unique habitat in Concord, have made a difference. A company called Praxair Surface Technology/TAFA created a 10-to-15 acre habitat to attract the brilliant blue butterflies, planting over 600 blue lupine and nectar plants in a matter of hours, the insect’s main source of food. The butterfly has been on the federal Endangered Species list since 1992. That year it also was named New Hampshire’s state butterfly, which has been working to restore their unique, savannah-like habitat, as legislators realized the numbers were dwindling.” (WSJ)

APBPC-Karner-blue-butterfly

The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote nearly ten years ago, about New England native lupines, and briefly describing the plight of the Karner Blue. At the end of the excerpt you can read the entire article after Read More

Blued with Butterflies and Lupines ~ The Rare Karner Blue  and Sundial Lupines

By Kim Smith

Excerpt:

Lupinus perennis is the only larval food of the nearly extinct Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). The upper surface of the wings of the male of the diminutive Karner Blue, with a wingspan of just an inch, is a brilliant lapis lazuli blue with a thin margin of black, bordered by an outline of white. The female is a nearly similar celestial blue, but with a slightly more brownish, or grayish hue, with dark dots rimmed by orange crescent-shaped spots along the margins of the hindwings. The Karner Blue was identified little more than a hundred years ago in Karner, New York. It is just one of many butterflies that Vladimir Nabokov studied and it is also referred to as Nabokov Blue. Throughout much of its former range, including Massachusetts, the Karner Blue is now extirpated. The near-extinction of the Karner Blue has been widely studied and there are currently several programs underway to encourage its survival in its existing colonies (New York) and reestablish new colonies in its former range (Ohio, for example). To my knowledge, no such program, as of yet, exists in Massachusetts. The reasons for the near extinction of the Karner Blue are many-fold, chiefly: fragmentation and loss of habitat of Lupinus perennis through fire suppression and over-development (the very sites that are ideal growing conditions for L. perennis are also choice locations desirable for housing and industrial developments); the use of pesticides (namely BTK), which kills all instars of the Karner Blue; and the ability of L. perennis to freely cross-pollinate with the west coast Lupinus polyphyllus and its Russell cultivar, which makes the next generation unsuitable host plants for the Karner Blue.  Lupinus polyphyllus and its offspring, now seen growing freely along the coast of Maine, is an unfortunate example of how an ill-conceived introduction of another species, and its cultivars, whether it is from another region of our own country or beyond our borders, has widespread and negative repercussions.

Perhaps in our community we can once again be blued with lupines and Karner Blues. The symbiotic relationship of both blue beauties inspired me to order seeds in bulk to share with friends. I am hoping, with the ability of the Karner blue to travel as far as1600 miles, maybe we can connect to the remnant populations in New York or New Hampshire. Possibly you, too, have a sunny location in your garden, or even more grandly, an entire meadow that could be devoted to Lupinus perennis and compatible native New England wildflowers. If, in time, I cannot report back to you that there have been any sightings of the Karner Blues visiting our garden, Lupinus perennis is also a nectar source for a wide variety of beneficial insects and is a larval host plant for the dwindling Frosted Elfin (Callophyrs irus). The eggs of the Frosted Elfin are laid singly on the lupine buds. Larva bore into developing seedpods and the chrysalids hibernate in the leaf litter beneath the plant. For these reasons, thoughtful maintenance is required when cultivating Lupinus perennis.

All images courtesy Google image search.

Read the full article:

Blued with Butterflies and Lupines ~ The Rare Karner Blue and Sundial Lupines

By Kim Smith

Have you seen growing in a meadow our New England native June-sky-blue lupine? Spires of vivid blue flowers rising above the distinctive palmate leaves, with their fresh honey-like scent, are a nectar plant for all manner of pollinators¾ bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Within a colony there is occasionally a variation in the pigment, sometimes white and more rarely pink, but it is the true blue of the species that is so very appealing. I am writing of the native New England lupine (Lupinus perennis), not Lupinus polyphyllus, which originally hailed from our western states, nor the Englishman’s Russell lupines.  Lupinus perennis has a looser, more naturalistic look when compared to the tight-looking gaudy appearance of the widely cultivated Russell lupines.  The large hybrids have a tendency to tip over, and they attract aphids, unlike their lower growing (24-36 inch) native counterparts.

Sundial lupine, a popular name for L. perennis, refers to its habit of erecting and drooping its leaves in a vertical line when it is sleeping or shielding itself from chilling winds. The Latin derivation of lupus, for wolf, refers to its inclination to grow in soils of poor quality and early on it was thought by farmers to “wolf” nutrients from the soil. This is a fallacy as it is a member of the Legume family (Fabaceae), therefore a nitrogen fixer, and where it grows in disrupted and sterile soils, will improve the quality of the soil.

Lupinus perennis is found growing in pine barrens and oak savannahs as well as the similarly dry, sandy sites of gravelly banks and hillsides, underneath power lines, along railroad tracks, and newly disturbed areas. This tells us, that in the garden, one would plant L. perennis in well-draining soil and a sunny location. Sundial lupine develops a long taproot; older plants resent transplanting. Plant seedlings and one-year-old plants out in the garden in late spring or early summer. After all danger of frost has passed, the seeds may be directly sown in the garden in their permanent location. The seeds must first be scarified. Scarification simply means helping to break the outer cover of hard seed to aid in germination. Scarify lupine seeds by first rubbing them between coarse sandpaper and then soaking the seeds overnight in warm water. Cultivate the soil and water well. The seeds should be planted no deeper than one centimeter. Sundial lupines produce hairy seedpods. By mid-summer, when the pod is fully ripened, the seedpods burst open, forcibly hurling the seeds a distance of several yards.  Lupinus perennis is susceptible to slug damage. To minimize slug damage, sprinkle crushed eggshells (also a good source of calcium) around the newly seeded areas and at the base of established plants, when shoots begin to emerge in the spring. Sundial lupine flowers in early summer, along with wild columbine, trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), lemon lily, blackberry, clover, chives, lavender, mock orange, Catawba rhododendron, peonies, and early roses.

Members of the subfamily Papilionoideae in the family Fabaceae all have papilionaceous (butterfly-shaped) blossoms. What is the advantage for the pollinators of papilionaceous flowers? The corolla of papilionaceous flowers has five petals. The upper petal is called the banner or standard petal and it not only encloses the remaining four petals while the flower is in bud, as the name banner suggests—it gains the attention of the pollinators. The two outer petals are referred to as wing or lateral petals and enclose two lower keel petals that are often fused together into one petal. The pressure from the insect’s weight alighting on the wing petals is sufficient to open the keel to expose the nectar. As soon as the pollinator departs, the elastic wing and keel petals return to their former position, thus closing to prevent the waste of pollen. The flowers are typically arranged on a raceme (as in L. perennis), spike, or head.

Lupinus perennis is the only larval food of the nearly extinct Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). The upper surface of the wings of the male of the diminutive Karner Blue, with a wingspan of just an inch, is a brilliant lapis lazuli blue with a thin margin of black, bordered by an outline of white. The female is a nearly similar celestial blue, but with a slightly more brownish, or grayish hue, with dark dots rimmed by orange crescent-shaped spots along the margins of the hindwings. The Karner Blue was identified little more than a hundred years ago in Karner, New York. It is just one of many butterflies that Vladimir Nabokov studied and it is also referred to as Nabokov Blue. Throughout much of its former range, including Massachusetts, the Karner Blue is now extirpated. The near-extinction of the Karner Blue has been widely studied and there are currently several programs underway to encourage its survival in its existing colonies (New York) and reestablish new colonies in its former range (Ohio, for example). To my knowledge, no such program, as of yet, exists in Massachusetts. The reasons for the near extinction of the Karner Blue are many-fold, chiefly: fragmentation and loss of habitat of Lupinus perennis through fire suppression and over-development (the very sites that are ideal growing conditions for L. perennis are also choice locations desirable for housing and industrial developments); the use of pesticides (namely BTK), which kills all instars of the Karner Blue; and the ability of L. perennis to freely cross-pollinate with the west coast Lupinus polyphyllus and its Russell cultivar, which makes the next generation unsuitable host plants for the Karner Blue.  Lupinus polyphyllus and its offspring, now seen growing freely along the coast of Maine, is an unfortunate example of how an ill-conceived introduction of another species, and its cultivars, whether it is from another region of our own country or beyond our borders, has widespread and negative repercussions.

Perhaps in our community we can once again be blued with lupines and Karner Blues. The symbiotic relationship of both blue beauties inspired me to order seeds in bulk to share with friends. I am hoping, with the ability of the Karner blue to travel as far as1600 miles, maybe we can connect to the remnant populations in New York or New Hampshire. Possibly you, too, have a sunny location in your garden, or even more grandly, an entire meadow that could be devoted to Lupinus perennis and compatible native New England wildflowers. If, in time, I cannot report back to you that there have been any sightings of the Karner Blues visiting our garden, Lupinus perennis is also a nectar source for a wide variety of beneficial insects and is a larval host plant for the dwindling Frosted Elfin (Callophyrs irus). The eggs of the Frosted Elfin are laid singly on the lupine buds. Larva bore into developing seedpods and the chrysalids hibernate in the leaf litter beneath the plant. For these reasons, thoughtful maintenance is required when cultivating Lupinus perennis.

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