All summer orange butterflies have danced around my garden. They weren’t Monarchs. Everyone hopes for those, but they didn’t have the black patterned etchings of the Monarch. Nor did they fly like Monarchs. Monarchs fly in a more leisurely manner. They own an inner stillness. Well, maybe not quite, but something like that.
My orange butterflies flitted and fluttered. They stopped only on occasion, and then for moments at a time. They looked like fritillaries, but everything I read assured me that fritillaries shouldn’t be here.
It’s true, of course, that we live in a time of drought, and anything as unusual as three or four orange butterflies a day, could be attributed to climate change. But to my credit, I never bought that. There was something too magical about the whole thing. I love the color orange. I’d painted the interior of my house orange. Orange roses grow everywhere.
If you sit outside every day in sunny California, you begin to learn things. You get used to the angry hiss of mocking birds troubled by crows. You watch doves courting around you, and catch an occasional glimpse of a family of quail on their way from one yard to the next. And, you begin to notice that orange butterflies dance mostly around the passion flowers that cover a backyard trellis. They love the elegantly shaped white flowers and the green fruit that eventually (ah, a clue?) turns orange.
It took no great intellect to figure out that the butterflies loved the vine. It took rather longer to find the article on Wikipedia. They’re gulf fritillaries (not true fritillaries) – or passion butterflies. They come from the South: from Argentina, Central America, and the southern states. Their caterpillars eat only passion flowers. They lay their eggs there; their caterpillar matures there; they hatch again there. They’ve only come to the San Francisco Bay Area because of passion flowers.
I felt like one of those people who just discovered a rare rose, or a heretofore unknown animal.
It’s a warm, uncomfortable summer for most of the plants I know. But not the passion flower and not the butterflies that adore it.
And that, I think, is more than enough to think about while we wait for rain.