Garlic Mustard, Charlock, Cuckooflower & other Crucifers
Key foodplants of caterpillars of the Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Small White and Bath White
The Crucifer family is familiar to most of us as boiled vegetable greens, as it includes crops like cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale, all of which have been bred from far more modest wild species.
Although Cabbage White butterflies have a great liking for the leaves of these horticultural varieties when kindly presented to them by optimistic gardeners, most related butterflies have remained loyal to wild hedgerow crucifers. These include Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Charlock (Sinapsis arvensis) and Cookooflower (Cardamine pratensis) often known as Lady's Smock, all of which produce succulent seed pods - as indeed would the domestic cabbage if allowed to reach maturity - and it is these seedpods which the caterpillars consume, rather than the leaves.
Garlic Mustard and other crucifers growing on the south-facing side of a loose hedge are ideal, and that's the best place to plant them to encourage butterflies like the Orange-tips. As Orange-tips live in colonies and rarely venture far away, to stand a reasonable chance of attracting them to an unoccupied hedgerow on your land there needs to be a colony nearby. Alternatively once a new habitat is established, or an old one restored, it may be possible for a conservation group to introduce Orange-tips as eggs or caterpillars. The Small White is more free-ranging and likely to find your offerings.
INCREASE BIODIVERSITY BY GROWING GARLIC MUSTARD AND OTHER CRUCIFERS TO SUPPORT THE BUTTERFLIES BELOW
ORANGE TIP Anthocaris cardamines
The female Orange Tip scans the hedgerow for the buds of GARLIC MUSTARD, LADY'S SMOCK, or CHARLOCK on which to lay her eggs.
A warm south-facing hedgerow is usually preferred. She lays her eggs one at a time, not on the leaves but on the flower buds, so that when the caterpillars emerge, they feed on the developing seed pods with their seeds.
In the British Isles, owing to the limited availability of food plants at the right stage of development, there is usually only one brood a year, and the caterpillars take early retirement at the end of summer.
They then spend most of their lives hibernating as pupae attached to plant stems until the following spring, when they emerge - if they have escaped predators and the dreaded strimmer - as adult butterflies.
They are one of the earliest of our butterflies to appear in spring, excluding the few like the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell which hibernate as adults.
GREEN-VEINED WHITE Pieris napi
The female Green-veined White, like the Orange-tip, scans south-facing hedgerows for the buds of GARLIC MUSTARD, LADY'S SMOCK, OR CHARLOCK on which to lay her eggs in readiness for the emerging caterpillars.
A selection of other crucifers including HEDGE MUSTARD and WATER CRESS are also on the menu.
SMALL WHITE Pieris rapae
Far from being dependent on garden cabbages, in the countryside the Small White will turn its attention to GARLIC MUSTARD, LADY'S SMOCK, or CHARLOCK
The Green-Veined White and Small White are found throughout Britain and Ireland, as are colonies of the Orange-tip, apart from parts of Northern and Western Scotland.
BATH WHITE Pontia daplidice
The caterpillars of the Bath White (Pontia daplidice), a rare summer visitor from the Continent to the south coast of England, also feed on crucifers.
MOTHS TOO It is not only butterflies that feed on crucifers. Caterpillars of the GARDEN CARPET MOTH (Xanthorhoe fluctuata), common throughout Britain and Ireland, feed on GARLIC MUSTARD among others including the comparatively tiny Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and Wild Horse-radish (Armoracia rusticana) and garden cabbages.