No, this article has nothing to do with American Roots music. Black Bugbane is one of several common names for the 2017 VNPS Wildflower of the Year, Actaea racemosa. And Blues refers to a subfamily of lycaenid butterflies, commonly referred to as Blues or Azures. The interactions between Black Bugbane, a.k.a., Black Cohosh, Appalachian Azure butterflies (Celastrina neglectamajor), and ants was recently summarized by VNPS charter member and past president Nicky Staunton (2015). In brief, Black Bugbane is the sole food source for caterpillars of Appalachian Azure butterflies, a situation that, superficially, might seem like any other caterpillar and host plant association. As is so often the case, however, it is the details that make this story exceptional. First, these gray, sluglike caterpillars feed preferentially on flowers and flower buds of Black Bugbane. Further, as they feed, they create minute vibrations that summon the attention of ants, who, in turn, feed on secretions produced by the caterpillars. In essence, the caterpillars process plant flowers and buds into food that ants readily consume. In return, ants will aggressively defend both plant and caterpillars from other animals. As long as there are not too many caterpillars per plant, unconsumed flowers will complete fruit and seed production, and all three partners in the relationship benefit: caterpillars become butterflies, Black Bugbanes make seeds, and ants get fed for their efforts.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2017

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2017 Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Sempervirens Quarterly (Spring 2017), 3-4.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.