Once upon a time, not too long ago, in an enchanted coastal rainforest, lived one of the largest subtropical butterflies ever seen in Australia.
The male had dazzling emerald wings and he’d flutter about the trees with his partner, an equally beautiful but even larger female. Her wings were grey and black with splotches of red, blotches of bright yellow, and dotted patterns of white and burnt orange adorning her underside. The pair gracefully floated through the canopies of the rainforest with scores of their friends. In harmony with nature their life was a leisurely affair of mating, feeding and egg laying and they existed happily like this for millennia before white people arrived in Lennox Head. Then, in only a few short years, they almost disappeared.
We know these beauties as Richmond Birdwing Butterflies. They still live here today though their numbers have dwindled remarkably. Their demise started in the 1860s when forests were cleared for timber. There is some good news though; their range is wide and they inhabit rainforest pockets between the Sunshine Coast and the Clarence Valley and, though they are listed as a species of concern, they are not a threatened species.
That being said the food source for their larvae, aptly named the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Vine, is not that common. Thing are changing however. The Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Vine – pararistolochia praevenosa is now established in a number of local gardens and is also being propagated by Lennox Head Landcare. This vine is the only food source for the larvae in our area. Another species grows in higher altitude on the Border Ranges of NSW and Queensland.
Interestingly, the larvae only feed on lush, tender new growth; the old foliage is too tough for their little chompers. And, a single caterpillar can denude a whole vine of new shoots in quick time. Often there is only one caterpillar on a whole vine, testament to their voracious appetite, and just possibly a cannibalistic predilection too.
So where can you get a vine for your garden? Some local nurseries stock pararistolochia praevenosa (make sure you get the right one) and Lennox Head Landcare will offer plants to residents in the near future. Potted vines are usually three years old before they are ready for transplanting and they grow best in well-drained acidic soils in semi shade and protected from hot sun and wind.
So keep your eye on this space and hopefully, very soon, your own enchanted forest may be a flutter with dazzling green emeralds in flight.
Female top, male bottom. Images provided by Robyn and Rob Seal.
(Times are 8am to 10am)
Wed 6th Seven Mile Dunes – dog walkers car park
Wed 13th Boulder Beach – Coast Rd car park
Wed 20th Seven Mile Dunes – opp William St
Wed 27th Boulder Beach – Coast Rd car park
For further info, visit www.lennoxheadlandcare.org; email
firstname.lastname@example.org, phone Shaun on 0448 221 210 or find us on Facebook ‘Lennox Head Landcare’.