The Habinas host a kaleidoscope of butterflies

Photo by Christy Porter 

Tom and Brenda Habina enjoy their butterfly gardens while helping to ensure numerous species of butterflies have a place to call home, spring through fall.

By Christy Porter, Managing Editor

Nestled in a corner of Texas County outside Licking is a butterfly oasis. Tom and Brenda Habina, with help of daughter Angela Carte, have created the haven on the outskirts of Licking.

Photo by Christy Porter
   Brenda’s interest in butterflies has been enhanced by her long-term employment at the George O. White State Nursery. They not only supply information on butterfly habitats but can also supply seeds and plants to encourage them. She notes that there has been a 90 percent decline in the monarch population in the past 20 years, which she personally is helping to minimize.

Brenda, with the assistance of Tom, has expanded what initially started as a small garden of low maintenance butterfly weed, one type of 18 indigenous milkweeds in Missouri, to three vegetation gardens. One garden contains the butterfly weed, which blooms twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Her early garden contains plant life that blooms in the spring, the summer garden blooms through the summer into early fall. All three gardens nurture the butterfly population throughout their season in the Ozarks. Planting, however, begins in winter with the scattering and a slight push into the ground of the milkweed seeds prior to or with the first snow. The seeds germinate during the cold season.

Brenda plants perennials and collects the pods and seeds, so she doesn’t have to completely replant the gardens each year. Many of the plants will bloom more than once through the growing season. The plantings include natural weeds such as the milkweed, marigold, dill weed, sunflower, lavender and numerous blooming florals.

Photo by Christy Porter

A butterfly life cycle begins as an egg, which appear as tiny white dots on foliage; they then develop into the caterpillar, at which time they need host plants, such as blazing star; the caterpillars develop into a pupa from which the butterfly emerges. They then need nectar plants to survive. The monarch caterpillar eats only milkweed and sand vine, both native to Missouri.

At least fifteen different species of butterflies have been and are enjoyed at the Habina’s gardens. They include four generations of the monarchs, the fourth generation being the monarchs which migrate to Mexico, and swallowtails which do not migrate. It is a full spectrum of color and size that flit through the prepared habitat.

The Habinas use no pesticides in their butterfly gardens as to not harm the wildlife, which is comprised of butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and bees, including honeybees. To control pests, Brenda uses a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. The butterflies are also protected by the toxic milkweed, which greatly diminishes insect and bird threats. The Habinas also recommend that you plant a garden in an area with lots of daytime sunshine, as the butterflies love heat and it helps them fly. There should be minimal trees to avoid blocking the sunshine, but with access to some trees, as trees can provide protection during high wind.

Further helping the butterflies, Brenda relocates 10 – 15 “fat” caterpillars into a butterfly cage and brings them inside for protection. She feeds them milkweed leaves in the morning and evening. In approximately 10 days, they will develop into butterflies, which are then released outside. Each year Brenda releases approximately 50 butterflies.

Brenda emphasizes, “Butterfly gardens are great hobby projects for all, but especially children. They only require a small space, minimal maintenance, are a great learning experience, are beneficial to the butterflies and they provide ongoing enjoyment.”

She also honestly notes that butterflies and their gardens can be addictive for all the above reasons.


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