They don't wear thong bikinis, but butterflies are sun worshippers. "Often you'll see them basking on rocks in the morning, just to get their body temperature up," says Laura Cyrocki, urban butterfly watcher and instructor at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
But if the rocks are all taken, they'll settle for a sunny slab of concrete, puddles (where they can soak up nutrients from mud or water), or that wanton strip of scrubgrass behind the K-mart. Able to fly transcontinental with a big chunk of wing missing, butterflies are hardy and adaptable--but they're not invincible. Last year, says Cyrocki, the migrating population of butterflies in the eastern United States was down 30 percent from the previous year, due to the destruction of their natural habitat in rural areas. Those rolling meadows aren't returning, so new habitats must spring from the city's cracks.
To help cultivate those curbside wilds, the Cleveland Botanical Garden has been hosting a series of urban gardening workshops, the latest of which is Urban Butterfly Gardening Saturday at Pilgrim Church in Tremont. It's part of the Garden's recent peek over its University Circle hedge into Slavic Village, Hough, Clark-Fulton, and other city neighborhoods. That peek becomes a path in mid-May, when the Garden opens its Urban Learning resource center on Chester Avenue and East 66th Street. There, residents will be able to dig into classroom courses on horticulture, nutrition, cooking, and ecology, taught by Cyrocki and other Garden outreach workers.
But butterflies, with smell sensors all over their spindly little bodies (including on the bottoms of their feet), just want to sniff the flowers or ditchweed. They love fennel, milkweed, parsley, and carrots. Plants with purple, blue, or violet flowers are a good bet to attract them, since they see only at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. And "flat petals with center discs make nice landing pads," Cyrocki says, "so think of daisies." But don't eat them, unless the soil's been tested for lead.
Though now's the time for planting, apartment dwellers may have to wait for a mushroom gardening workshop, unless they have dibs on a sunny front stoop where they can start a container garden. Or they could set their sights higher with a spiky, purple-flowered butterfly bush, a species that lost its identity to the painted ladies flitting around it for a nectar fix. "I think, if you put that on your rooftop, you'd attract butterflies," says Cyrocki. Otherwise, try that rain-filled chuckhole in the Arby's parking lot.
Urban Butterfly Gardening takes wing from 7-8 p.m. Thursday at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 West 14th Street. Admission is free; call 216-721-1600.