In June of 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed a resolution designating Jasper, Texas as the Butterfly Capital of Texas. Although the resolution was passed because of the community’s efforts to help conserve the Monarch Butterfly, which passes through Jasper as one of the three major flyways for migration in the Fall, the resolution designated Jasper as the Butterfly Capital — not the Monarch Capital — of Texas.
The Monarch is stunning, and important — it’s been designated as the State Insect of Texas. But since we are simply the Butterfly Capital, I think we should capitalize on some of the other gorgeous species that are indigenous to our Deep East Texas county.
By far the most stunning, in my opinion, is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, scientifically known as Papilio glaucus. Black tiger stripes on its forewings makes the common name easy to remember when you see it gathering nectar Spring through Fall, with a preference for red and pink flowers.
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be seen throughout Eastern North America, and utilizes a number of host plants. Two of those hosts are very common in Jasper County — Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). They lay their eggs on the leaves of these host plants, and the caterpillar eats the leaves before that magical transformation into a butterfly.
If you want to see more of these beautiful butterflies in East Texas, learn to recognize these common native plants and help preserve them.
The Sweetbay Magnolia produces a flower shaped like that of its cousin, the Southern Magnolia, and while it isn’t as large, I think it is just as beautiful. They are small trees, evergreen in our hardiness zone, and make nice ornamentals, with cones of red berries in the Fall.
The Black Cherry produces very inconspicuous white blooms which you will miss unless you’re really paying attention in the Spring. But it’s a beautiful tree with very distinctive and interesting bark, which I’ve heard was used by some of the oldtimers to make cough medicine. It also produces tiny cherries, which are usually consumed by birds as soon as they start to ripen.