Admiring the Red Admiral

Mar 8, 2017

So, you're taking a winter walk through the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, part of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Gardens.

You're looking for the winter daphne, Daphne odora Aureomarginta. You see a daphne sign in the Storer Garden but what's that on the sign? A butterfly? A Red Admiral? On Jan. 28? Are your eyes deceiving you?

You step closer and the butterfly is as real as real gets. It's basking in the warmth of the sun. Basking warms its flight muscles.

Yes, a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalantain the dead of winter. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, points out that the Red Admiral overwinters as an adult. So while we're holed up in our homes, offices or warehouses, it's flying around, weather permitting.

On his website, Art's Butterfly World, Shapiro writes: "One of the most frequently seen butterflies in midwinter at low elevation, and often very common in the urban Bay Area, the Red Admiral occurs all around the Northern Hemisphere. It is multiple-brooded, overwinters as an adult, and may undergo altitudinal migration in the Sierra (where it is generally uncommon."

"The larval hosts are all members of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, including not only the familiar Stinging Nettles (Urtica holosericea and U. urens) but the tiny-leaved ground cover Baby's Tears (Helxine or Soleirolia) in moist, shaded gardens and the climbing urban weed Pellitory (Parietaria) in the Bay Area. The larva is solitary, in a rolled-leaf shelter."

With spring approaching on March 20, we're all anticipating more of Nature's wonders. Meanwhile, if you're seeking pollinator plants--or garden gems--check out the UC Davis Arboretum's  plant sale on Saturday, March 11 at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. The Arboretum's  first spring plant sale of the year, it's open to members only (Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Davis Botanical Society) from 9 to 11 a.m., and to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can also join the Friends of the Arboretum online or at the gate.

The inventory includes some 400 varieties and almost 13,000 plants. Here' s the list of "garden gems" you can download: LIFE AFTER LAWN: Garden Gems Plant List.

While you're there, be sure to walk a few yards over to the Storer Garden to see this wonderful little garden that bears the name of physician/philanthropist Ruth Risdon Storer (1888-1986), the first woman physician on the UC Davis campus and the first woman pediatrician practicing in Yolo County.  There's always something new to see in the Storer Garden.  If you're lucky, maybe a Red Admiral...