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Butterflies: Common four ring

common four ring butterfly

Common four ring

Ypthima huebneri

These low flying butterflies are a dull brown gray, but they are adorned with black and yellow eye spots that are used to confuse predators. It looks almost the same as the common three ring, but instead of three eye spots on the underside hind wing, it has four. Like other ring butterflies, its host plant is grasses.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Gramineae

Microhabitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth and forest borders

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: Likely it has limited dispersal range, but it can move through open areas and road verges

Common four ring (Ypthima huebneri)
(underside)

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Butterflies: Common three ring

common three ring butterfly

Common three ring

Ypthima pandocus

At a glance, this gray brown butterfly may not be very attractive. But close inspection reveals yellow eye spots along the edge of the wing, some with dots of metallic blue set in a black pupil. This species is differentiated from the common four ring by only having 3 eyespots on its hindwing. This butterfly is associated with gardens and green spaces since its caterpillars feed on the fast growing Goat grass (Ischaemum muticum) which is usually used in lawns in Malaysia.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Gramineae, Ishcaemum muticum

Microhabitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth and forest borders

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: Likely it has limited dispersal range, but it can move through open areas and road verges

Common three ring (Ypthima pandocus)
(underside)

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Butterflies: Psyche

psyche, butterfly

Psyche

Leptosia nina

A little white butterfly with a single black corner and dot on the upperside of each wing. Its underside is covered in mottled green gray stripes. It flies at a slow relaxed pace, but is easily startled when approached. Usually it is found flying near shadier parts of gardens, visiting wildflowers like Coromandels. The host of this butterfly are Capers (Capparis) although it can also feed on Maman as well.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Capparis heneana, Crateva religiosa, Cleome rutidosperma

Habitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth and forest borders

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: Likely it has limited dispersal range, but it can move through open areas and road verges

Psyche (Leptosia nina)
(underside)

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Butterflies: Striped albatross

striped albatross butterfly

Striped albatross

Appias lyncida

Flying low but cautious, the males wings are striped with black on a pure white ground. At the base of the forewing is a faint spot of yellow. The females are a less stark contrast, dark brown stripes are dusted on a gray tinged ground, with orange yellow diffusing through the hind wing. One of the easiest butterflies to attract to a garden, as the host plant is the common Maman Ungu wildflower.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Cleome rutidosperma

Microhabitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth and forests

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: A strong flier that can cross urban areas.

Striped albatross (Appias lyncida)
(underside)

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Butterflies: Common grass yellow

common grass yellow butterfly

Common grass yellow

Eurema hecabe

A flutter of light sulphur wings, this erratic fast flying butterfly is a common sight in gardens. It has a variety of hosts, so it can take advantage of many ornamental and wild trees. Its yellow wings are dotted with brown spots on the underside and the upperside front wings have a dark chocolate brown corner.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Pithecellobium, Cassia, Moullava, Acacia, Caesalpinia, Albizia and Sesbania

Habitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: Likely it has limited dispersal range, but it can move through open areas and road verges

Common grass yellow (Eurema hecabe)
(underside)

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A Beginner Butterfly Garden

A beginner’s butterfly garden uses host plants and flowering plants that grow wild. Shade is not an issue for many of these butterfly species here since they are adapted to living in hot open areas. Because this garden uses wild plants, it requires almost zero maintenance (except for occasional trimming).

For aesthetic value, you can hide the host plants behind or between ornamental plants, or use them as verges (edge or border plants).

Some of these butterfly species may already be present in your gardens. But enriching your garden for butterflies can bring them closer for you to view.

Target butterflies

This garden is suitable for sustaining populations of these species of butterfly.

Passionflower butterflies

These are recent introductions to Malaysia; they can use passionflower vines as a food source for their caterpillars

Coromandel and Cleome butterflies

These butterflies have a variety of host plants but they can use coromandel and cleome as host plants.

Lawn butterflies

These butterflies lay their eggs in lawns on low growing plants that can withstand being mowed.

Roadside tree butterflies

These butterflies can use common roadside trees as a host. This means that you don’t have to plant their host plants but they will still be attracted to your garden.

Host plants

Common four rings use grass as a host plant. A pesticide free lawn is enough to sustain these butterflies

This is the list of host plants that can be planted in a beginner butterfly garden. You can choose to plant all or just some of them. A few of these are common urban wildflowers.

Passionflowers are creeping vines that can be grown on fences. Sometimes they can be found growing on the borders of drains or other plants.

Coromandel and Cleome are two easily grown wildflowers that are almost everywhere and require almost no maintenance. They grow low and won’t take over your garden, so a small patch or planting them between pots is possible. Both these plants produce seed pods that can be easily harvested from patches of wildflowers.

Lawn plants like grasses and some plants that grow together with grasses, such as Semalu and Desmodium, are also used by lawn butterflies.

Target butterfliesHost plant species
Passionflower butterfliesCorky passionflower, Passiflora suberosa
(other ornamental passionflowers can also be used as long as you don’t mind caterpillars)
Coromandel and Cleome butterfliesCoromandel, Asystasia gangetica (ornamental varieties are available if you would like to use them instead)
Purple Cleome, Cleome rutidosperma
Lawn butterfliesSemalu, Mimosa pudica
Desmodium
Goat grass, Ishaemum muticum
Roadside tree butterfliesAcacia
Raintrees, Albizia
Cassia
Desmodium is a host plant for the Tiny Grass Blue butterfly. It also enhances soil fertility and can grow in between grass in a lawn.

As with wildflower patches, allowing other plants to grow in between the host plants helps to fertilise the soil and lower the need for maintenance. Let it grow wild without pesticides and you might get additional biodiversity such as stingless bees and ladybugs.

Flowering plants

Little ironweeds can survive in degraded land and are very attractive to pollinators

Coromandel flowers can double as a nectar source for adult butterflies. Easily grown wildflowers such as Goat weed, Cupid’s shaving brush, Tridax daisy and Beggarticks are suitable sources of nectar since they are almost always flowering.  Since all of these are from the sunflower family, they produce dandelion like seeds that reseed the plot after the wilt.

The seeds can be harvested from wild patches and placed in a plot.

Tridax daisies are hardy plants that are used by a wide variety of pollinators

This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

Urban Farming

okra ladybird beetle pest

from Biodiversity Gardens Capacity Building Workshop with Low Shao-Lyn, Eats, Shoots and Roots (Co-founder and Design Director)

Low Shao-Lyn from Eats, Shoots and Roots has shared with us her personal journey in urban farming.

Realities of urban farming

  1. We have to understand the life cycle of plants as plants will eventually die. Therefore, manage your own expectations.
  2. Choose plants that are suitable for the tropical climate.
  3. Pests love the plants that you love too. We have to learn how to manage them.
  4. Maintenance is essential. We have to prune leaves to keep the plants upright.
  5. A good farm can only exist with a good farmer. The farm is actually a reflection of you. Hence, make sure you have enough time to take care of your farm.  

Tips on how to start growing plants

1. Seeds

Understanding the typical life cycle of an annual plant: The plant starts to grow from a seed and it soon develops into a seedling. It then matures, flowers and dies. Then, we harvest the seeds and grow the plants again. However, we can also choose perennials that can grow for a longer time period such as pandan, lemongrass, daun kadok.

Choose plants that are suitable for our climate. Choose the local variety. For example, choose Thai Basil instead of Italian Basil as Thai Basil grows better in a tropical climate.

Choose fresh seeds. All seeds have an expiry date and they just can’t last forever. Therefore, check the expiry date of seeds before you sow them.

Heirloom vs Hybrid vs GMOsHeirloom seeds are seeds that may not be a commercial crop. They are non-famous ( may not taste good) but with interesting properties. So, it is okay to use them but they may not be for the same purpose as the common varieites. Hybrid seeds can be found in nurseries easily and are okay to use if you know what to expect. Hybrids are good for consistency. Nonetheless, the second generation may not have the same quality as the first generation. GMOs are mostly commercial crops e.g. corn and cotton. Therefore, do not worry if you just grow your sawi or pak choi at a small scale.

2. Preparing Your Vegetation Bed

Make sure the plants receive sufficient sunlight so that they can grow food. Full sunlight is the best.

3. Preparing the Right Soil

Mix simple topsoil with compost and cow manure. Topsoil provides the basic structure to hold the roots while compost and cow manure provide nutrients and ingredients to make the food. Good soil mix has a moist and nice texture. Sometimes we need to modify soil to make sure it has a good structure to hold nutrients and moisture.

4. Planting

You can sow the seeds directly into the ground (for large or ‘cheap’ seeds).

For more expensive seeds, you can grow them in trays so that they get the best chance of growing and would not be eaten by birds.

5. Care

Watering – You can use watering cans in a small area. However, it is good to install an irrigation system if you are farming on a large scale. Use drip irrigation instead of sprinkler irrigation to ensure the water permeates the soil.

Shade House – Create a shade house instead of a greenhouse as the shade house would keep the bugs out while still allowing ventilation.

Fertiliser Natural fertilisers release nutrients slowly while synthetic fertilisers release nutrients quickly and are specific. However, synthetic fertilisers may cause pollution and kill aquatic animals. A third option is microbes which unlock the nutrients for plants to absorb, and help plants to grow better

Pest management – Manually removing the pest is the best way of controlling it. If it doesn’t work, then only look at using natural repellent e.g. chili or garlic spray, so as not to repel beneficial bugs too. You can grow flowers or plants that attract predatory bugs e.g. ladybirds, praying mantis or spider that help to control pests. The last resort is to destroy, burn and start afresh.

Farming in urban areas

Shao-Lyn and her team teach and produce kits and educational materials for people who may not able to find the right materials or don’t know how to start growing plants. They design compost bins that are more suitable for urban settings. They also sell microgreens in small containers. They have also created planter boxes to manage gardening spaces.

… it is good to get a community together that would commit to a space to work on the land properly.

Shao-Lyn suggests that it is good to install large garden beds to share resources among plants. Besides, if you have large space, grow different things in different areas to manage them better. She also mentions that it is important to have a diversity of plants so that pest insects get distracted. Shao-Lyn stressed that manpower is the most important element in urban farming. Therefore, it is good to get a community together that would commit to a space to work on the land properly.

The urban farming experience

Shao-Lyn shared how she was first exposed to a permaculture garden of Sabina Arokiam in Batu Arang. Then, she started to explore and grow things from a balcony in a very small space. She documented the process of growing plants and looked for more information on how to grow them. Shao-Lyn mentioned that a good way to learn is by starting and working with your own hands.

She soon paid visits to several sites in Europe to learn about farming. Along the journey, Shao-Lyn discovered that there is a big network of urban farms in London. However, 8 years ago in KL, people saw farming as something for backyards that they did not want to do in the city. Nonetheless, Shao-Lyn felt that it was important to reconnect with gardening. She then established the first edible garden in Bukit Gasing. She and her partner spent 6 years to establish the garden, starting at a small scale as that was what they could handle at the time before, before expanding.


This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

You can watch the entire session here.

Butterfly Gardens: Key Concepts

Butterflies are nice to have in a garden, they help to make it feel alive with colour and movement. They also become food for birds and carry out important pollination of plants.

To have butterflies in a garden, you have to meet the requirements of butterflies. In no particular order, the requirements are: host plants (for caterpillars), flowering plants (for adults) and suitable amounts of shade.

Host plants

These are plants that caterpillars feed on before they become butterflies. Many butterflies have specific host plants, while some common species have a variety of plants that they can feed on. Sometimes the host plants of butterflies are plants that we eat or use for decoration.

coromandel and pollinator
Coromandels are host plants for many urban butterflies

If you are preparing a butterfly garden, please tolerate a few chewed up leaves. Natural predators like wasps and birds can help to keep caterpillar numbers manageable, so preparing habitat for them too can help to bring a balance to your garden.

Flowering plants

butterfly feeding on Bidens alba nectar
Allowing wildflowers to grow in your garden is a good way to ensure a consistent source of nectar for butterflies

Plants which regularly flower are very attractive to butterflies. These flowers are not necessarily big, but they usually occur in clusters that the butterflies can walk across.

Wildflower patches are a simple way to make habitat for adult butterflies to feed, although edible plants such as Ulam raja and some ornamental flowers such as Lantana, Ixora and Saraca are attractive to butterflies as well.

butterfly and a cluster of flowers
Clustered flowers are very attractive to butterflies

Shade

Butterflies are cold blooded creatures, so they control their body temperature by exposing themselves to sunlight. However, too much sunlight can be harmful to them. Many species of butterflies prefer shadier conditions where they can rest and cool off. Some forest butterflies never leave the shade of the forest, while open area butterflies can tolerate intense heat from the sun. 

Keeping these three things in mind will help make your garden a suitable habitat for butterflies. However, you can meet the requirements of some species of butterflies and still not get a desired species. This is because butterflies have to get to your garden, and usually, species that are more sensitive to urban environments may need pathways from forest patches that they can safely migrate through. So it is good to keep in mind that connectivity to forest patches is a good way to ensure that butterflies can establish themselves in home gardens.

If you want to experiment with these concepts, you can try planting a beginner butterfly garden that attracts very hardy urban butterflies.


This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

See also

Wildflowers: Purple composites

Top (Left to right): Siam weed, Chromolaena odorata & Goat weed, Ageratum conyzoides

Bottom(Left to right): Cupid’s shaving brush, Emilia sonchifolia &
Tropical fleabane, Cyanthillium cinereum

Plants with small, fluffy purple or white flowers. They can be found almost anywhere, favoured by beekeepers for the pollen and nectar they produce. They are grown to prevent Lalang growth but they can crowd out native plants. They are poisonous to vertebrates.

Status: Least concern, invasive

Habit: Herbaceous

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover

Pollinators:  Large bees, small bees, butterflies, flies, wasps

Soil: Sandy, loam, organic soils

Moisture: Well drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

Wildflowers: Monkey’s potato

Monkey potato ~ Rimanji

Plectranthus monostachyus

An upright plant from the mint family. It has oval leaves that occur in pairs opposite each other, and at right angles to the following pairs. It produces small purple flowers at the top end of stems. The common name comes from nodules found on the roots of the mature plant.

Status: Least concern, Introduced (Tropical Africa)

Habit: Annual herbaceous

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover, host plant for butterflies (Junonia orithya)

Pollinators:  Large bees, small bees, butterflies

Soil: Loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Well drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

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