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Contrary to popular opinion, adult butterflies and moths aren’t all nectar-drinkers. Oh, many are, but many species go for other options. You may have seen photos of Orinoco River turtles covered with white and yellow butterflies perched on their heads, but the butterflies aren’t just using the turtles as resting sites. Instead, they’re taking advantage of the salt secreted from the salt glands resting by the turtles’ eyes. Many species augment sodium or other elements from sweat, overripe fruit, manure, and, sometimes, blood.
Considering the number attracted by fermenting fruit, it’s not really surprising that the Texas Discovery Gardens butterfly garden has a large loquat tree along its entry ramp. The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), sometimes known as “Japanese plum,” is a rather common ornamental tree throughout Texas. While the foliage can handle a typical Dallas winter without problems, the fruit sets and grows through the winter, and that can’t handle our sudden subfreezing stints. Therefore, to see fruit, loquats in Dallas need to be under cover.
Most people in the US who have encountered loquat fruit did so in Chinese buffets, where canned loquat in light syrup is extremely popular. That was where I had my first experience with the succulent and slightly crunchy fruit, and rapidly became enthralled with both the flavor and the consistency. Because of its winter-growing habits, fresh loquat is nearly impossible to get north of Austin, but friends there relate the popularity of trees grown in front yards among local kids. The fruit needs to be peeled and pitted, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
In comparison to the fruit, loquat flowers don’t appear to have much going for them. Possibly because of their mutual relations within the family Roseacea, loquat flowers have a rough similarity to apple blossoms. I’m curious about how they fluoresce under ultraviolet light, because between their bland coloration under visible light and the relative lack of scent, they need something else to attract pollinators.
All things considered, a loquat tree makes excellent sense in an indoor butterfly garden. Voluminous flowers, fruit that remains on the tree when ripe, plenty of foliage for hiding…now I just want to know what sorts of caterpillars feed upon the leaves.
More to follow…