Butterfly magnet

Butterflies of all sizes and colors have been having a party behind my back fence. They are enjoying themselves at the neighbor's condo. When I went out back, the air smelled like the fragrant lilacs of May in Nebraska. When I moved into this condo, my patio was shaded by a big tree behind the fence, but that tree fell over in a storm about six years ago. The condo changed owners a few times as a new volunteer tree sprouted and grew in a pot on the patio. One of the owners transplanted the seedling in the ground, and it grew like crazy. In five years it went from seed to taller than a two-story building. The tree is very gangly, sprawling about like a teenage boy who can't figure out what to do with his long limbs and big feet. Hummingbirds pause on its branches in the summer. Clusters of round yellow seeds hang from the bare branches all winter.

I'm suspicious of trees that grow this fast because of their weak, brittle branches. They can make a big mess of twigs and branches each time the wind blows, not just for you, but also for your over-the-fence neighbor.

So what is this tree that's attracting butterflies? The internet is so great for questions like this one. I found photos matching the leaves, flowers, and berries at DFW Tree ID, so I know it is a chinaberry tree.

The non-native Chinaberry is considered an invasive species that outcompetes native species in thickets, floodplain woods, and borders of woods. According to Wikipedia, the tree is unattractive to bees and butterflies, which I can see out my window isn't true. It is also a toxic plant, according to the Toxic Plant Database:

Meliatoxins A1, A2 and A3 are responsible for the toxicity of these plants. They are found in highest concentration in the fruit, but the bark, leaves and flowers are also poisonous. Many species including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, poultry and humans have been poisoned by chinaberry. Pigs and dogs are poisoned most frequently, usually by ingesting fallen fruits. They show clinical signs within 2 to 4 hours of consumption.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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