Fritillary butterfly feeding on Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Contributed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

The meadows in the open fields of the Arboretum are at their best right now. Meadows are a medley of herbaceous plants, such as perennial native plants, wildflowers, and grasses. They become a haven for butterflies and their larvae (caterpillars), songbirds, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects, providing shelter, safety, and food.

From a distance, meadows can look unremarkable and disheveled. But up close, they are full of natural interest and teem with activity. Pops of color abound from summer flowers. There is an endless busyness—pollinators, like butterflies, bees, and beetles jockey for food and pollen. Birds search spent flowers for seeds.

Monarch butterfly feeding on Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Meadows must be carefully crafted and continually watched over. At the Arboretum, this effort is led by Jess Slade, the Arboretum's Natural Lands Horticulturist, and her dedicated colleagues, who thoughtfully compose and nurture the meadows. They take into account the right location, soil health, proper plant selection, and ways to manage invasive plants.  

Recently, I walked with Jess around a meadow area (staying on the mowed paths) near the Pump House. Jess mentioned that this was a young meadows pointing out some of the beneficial plants taking hold and a few threats from unwanted weeds. Still, there was already so much to enjoy!  Native plants proudly displayed their blooms, including milkweed (Asclepias) Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium), ironweed (Vernonia) and mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum).  

Butterflies and more butterflies fluttered about, including monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Jess noted monarch caterpillar eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves.  Other sightings included a “hummingbird” moth (Hemaris) and milkweed beetles.

Enjoy the natural magic of meadows at the Arboretum! You will find them among the open field just inside the Arboretum's main entrance, near to the Pump House and below the Magnolia Slope. Park in the lot across from the entrance kiosk.