Falcate Orangetip Butterflies and Best Nectars Forever (BNFs): Cresses, Violets, Virginia Bluebell

by DerdriuMarriner

Common blue violet, Virginia bluebells, and sickle-pod are enjoyed by Falcate Orangetip Butterflies (Anthocharis midea) as their Best Nectars Forever (BNFs).

Anthocharis midea, commonly known as falcate orangetip, a New World butterfly, is presented.

Three New World plants (common blue violet, Virginia bluebells, sickle-pod), as staple nectar sources for falcates, are described.

Falcate orangetip's close relationship throughout its life cycle with sickle-pods and other plants in the mustard family is highlighted.

Falcate orangetip (Anthocharis midea)

Oconee County, South Carolina
Oconee County, South Carolina


Anthocharis midea is commonly known as falcate orangetip butterfly. In its common name, falcate (Latin: falx, “sickle”) refers to the sickle-shaped curve at the apex, or tip, of each forewing. Orangetip relates to the color of the forewing tips, which are orange in males but white in females.

A New World native, Anthocharis midea sweeps from southern New England southwest into Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and southern Texas. The Florida Panhandle, eastern Nebraska, and southern Wisconsin also welcome local populations, which are disjunct, that is, separate, from the main, contiguous sweep north of the Gulf Coast and south of the Great Lakes.

Open wetness characterizes habitat preferences for Anthocharis midea. Ideal locales are open swamps and open, wet woods along waterways. Anthocharis midea occasionally haunts dry woods and ridgetops.


female falcate orangetip

Green Ridge State Forest, Allegany County, northwestern Maryland
Green Ridge State Forest, Allegany County, northwestern Maryland

Externals: What falcate orangetips look like


Anthocharis midea belongs to the family Pieridae, whose typical coloration shifts from white to yellow or orange as a backdrop for distinct black spots. True to its family, Anthocharis midea has white uppersides. Females have completely white uppersides whereas males have orange tipped forewings. A round black celled spot appears on the upperside of each forewing.

A fine green pattern marbles across the underside of each hindwing.

Wingspan measures 1-3/8 to 1-3/4 inches (3.5 to 4.5 centimeters).


Top three nectar sources


Falcate orangetips are enchanted by violets (genus Viola) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Never weaned from mustards (family Brassicaceae), falcate orangetips devotedly devour the leaves of mustards as a caterpillar and sip Brassicaceae nectar as a butterfly.


common blue violet (Viola sororia)

Kettle Pond Conservation Park, Madison, Wisconsin
Kettle Pond Conservation Park, Madison, Wisconsin


Viola sororia is commonly known as the common blue violet.

A New World native perennial,  common blue violets originate in eastern North America.


Native distribution: Canada

In Canada common blue violets occur natively in the eastern provinces of Quebec and Ontario and, disjunctively, that is, separately, in the central prairie province of Saskatchewan.


Native status of Viola sororia in Canada and the United States
VISO Viola sororia
VISO Viola sororia

Native distribution: United States

In the continental United States, common blue violets’ extensive nativity encompasses the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., plus every state from the eastern seaboard through the Gulf Coast, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. Their nativity ceases at the borders of the Rocky Mountain states.

Common blue violets occur natively in every county in Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In four states they are distributed natively throughout, with the exception of one county: in Delaware apart from the central county of Kent, in New York except for the western county of Schuyler, in Ohio apart from the central county of Madison, and in Rhode Island except for the southernmost county of Washington.

Common blue violets are honored with state flower status by Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.


U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones Map, which classes plants according to the coldest temperatures at which they remain viable, places common blue violets in Zone 4 (-30° to-20° Fahrenheit; -34° to -29° Celsius) through Zone 9 (20° to 30° F; -7° to -1° C).


common blue violet (Viola sororia)

James Woodworth Prairie Preserve, Glenview, Illinois
James Woodworth Prairie Preserve, Glenview, Illinois


Externals: What common blue violets look like

Common blue violets have a spread of 6 to 16 inches (15 to 40 centimeters) and a height of 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 centimeters).

Leaves are rounded, broad, and toothed. Coated with down, leaves have a light, soft texture. Leaf length usually measures under 4 inches (10 centimeter).

Light centers, shading from white to pale yellow orange, provide effective contrast to the flowers’ main coloration of variations of the violet range, which falls in the blue to purple spectrum. Floral width may measure up to 1 inch (25 millimeters).


Ethnobotany: edible, fragrant, medicinal

Common blue violets are greatly prized for their long-standing culinary, medicinal, and perfume applications. Culinary uses include extracting violet essences for flavoring in desserts and liqueurs and adding fresh flowers and young leaves to salads. The contributions of violets to the perfume industry are legendary.

The Cherokee, who called themselves Tsalagi or Aniyvwiyaʔi (“principal people”), inhabited the southeastern United States, especially settling in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. The Cherokee sought recourse to common blue violets in preparing infusions for treating colds, coughs, dysentery, and nasal catarrh. An infusion was valued also as a spring tonic. A poultice of leaves dissipated headaches while a poultice of crushed roots healed boils.


Common blue violets: ambrosial nectar source

Common blue violets are appreciated by butterflies for their widespread distribution and, hence, for their extensive nectar availability.

Falcate orangetips look upon common blue violets as cherished mainstays. As they confidently perch for nectaring, they blend perfectly, apart from the absence of a violet counterpart, with the floral coloring. Especially male falcates mirror, with their white, orange-tipped uppersides, the white and yellow orange floral centers. The fine green marbling of the hindwing undersides also harmonizes with the floral foliage.


pretty pastel palette of Virginia bluebell floral buds

ParkLands Foundation, McLean County, central Illinois
ParkLands Foundation, McLean County, central Illinois


Mertensia virginica is commonly known as Virginia bluebell, Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf, and Roanoke bells.

A New World native perennial, Virginia bluebells originate in eastern North America.


Native status of Mertensia virginica in Canada and the United States

MEVI Mertensia virginica
MEVI Mertensia virginica


Native distribution: Canada

In Canada, Virginia bluebells occur natively in the eastern provinces of Quebec and Ontario.


Native distribution: United States

In the continental United States, Virginia bluebells' nativity encompasses the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., plus twenty-six states from the eastern seaboard west through the midwest: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In two disparate states, Virginia bluebells are found natively in only one county: in Maine only in the southeastern coastal county of Sagadahoc and in Mississippi only in the northeastern corner county of Tishomingo.


U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones

Virginia bluebells are hardy for Zone 3 (-40° to-30° Fahrenheit; -40° to -34° Celsius) through Zone 9 (20° to 30° F; -7° to -1° C).


early spring's Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Shenandoah River State Park, northern Virginia
Shenandoah River State Park, northern Virginia


Externals: What Virginia bluebells look like

Virginia bluebells have a spread of 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters), with an equiproportionate height of 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters).

Grey green leaves have an oval shape and a length of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

Buds are blue tinged extensively with pink. Bell-shaped flowers are formed by the tubular fusion of five petals.

Sky blue flowers, which open in clusters in early spring, nod enchantingly and amicably with nature’s awakening breezes.


Ethnobotany: Virginia bluebells, more than a pretty flower

Native Americans had recourse to Virginia bluebells for a variety of ailments.

In Cherokee ethnobotany, Virginia bluebells served as a pulmonary aid in treating whooping cough and as a remedy for tuberculosis.

The Iroquois, referring to themselves as Haudenosaunee (“they are building a long house”), settled in the northeastern United States, mainly in upstate New York and especially in the west central section throughout the Finger Lakes region. By steeping the roots of Virginia bluebells, the Iroquois prepared an infusion which served as an antidote for poisons. Boiling the roots produced a decoction which treated venereal disease.


Virginia bluebells: mellifluous nectar source

Falcate orangetips happily flit directly to Virginia bluebells, which they favor and savor.


closeup of winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris) flowers

popular with falcate orangetips, but secondary to rock cresses (Arabis and Boechera)
Barbarea vulgaris - village of Cerreto, Alessandria province, northwestern Italy
Barbarea vulgaris - village of Cerreto, Alessandria province, northwestern Italy


Falcate orangetips display a lifelong devotion to plants in the Brassicaceae family, commonly known as cabbages, crucifers, or mustards. Most favored status is bestowed first upon rock cress (genera Arabis and Boechera) and secondarily upon winter cress (genus Barbarea).


Shale barren rock-cress (Arabis serotina), a host plant for falcate orangetips, is an imperiled species native only to Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia and of eastern West Virginia.

shale barren rock-cress (Arabis serotina)
shale barren rock-cress (Arabis serotina)


One of the rock cresses of which falcate orangetip is a diehard fan is Boechera canadensis, commonly known as sickle-pod because of its long, slender, curved pods. Another common name is Canadian rock cress. Eight other scientific synonyms include five accepted synonyms:

  • Arabis canadensis L.,
  • Arabis cheiranthifolia Haberle,
  • Arabis falcate Michx.,
  • Erysimum canadense (L.) Kuntze, and
  • Erysimum canadense var. glabrescens Kuntze.

One synonym, Arabis molis Raf., has been determined to be illegitimate, that is, unacceptable. Two synonyms have unresolved status: Turritis Canadensis Nieuwl. and Turritis lyrata Raf.

A New World native biennial, sickle-pod originates in eastern North America.


Native status of Arabis Canadensis in Canada and the United States

ARCA Arabis canadensis L.
ARCA Arabis canadensis L.


Native distribution: Canada

In Canada, sickle-pod occurs natively in the eastern provinces of Quebec and Ontario.


Native distribution: United States

In the continental United States, sickle-pod has native status in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., plus thirty-six states. Nativity encompasses the eastern seaboard, with the exception of Maine, and sweeps across the Gulf Coast states, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. Nativity ceases at the borders of the Rocky Mountain states.

Sickle-pod occurs natively in every county in Connecticut,

In three separate states sickle-pod has a native appearance in only one county: in Louisiana in the northwestern county of Bossier, in North Dakota in southeastern county of Sargent, and in Rhode Island in northernmost county of Providence.

Preferring shade to partial sun, sickle-pod typically thrives in dry open woods and rocky slopes.


U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones Map

Arabis and Boechera species generally are hardy to Zone 5 (-20° to-10°Fahrenheit; -29° to -23° Celsius) through Zone 9 (20° to30° F; -7° to -1° C).


parts of Arabis canadensis L. sickle-pod

Arabis canadénsis L. Sickle-pod. Figure 2078.
Arabis canadénsis L. Sickle-pod. Figure 2078.

Externals: What sickle-pod looks like


Sickle-pod reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet (0.3 to 0.6 meters).

Its stout stems are mostly unbranched. Occasional branching occurs towards the upper part of the stem.

Leaves are hairy and small. Leaves taper at the tip and the base. Irregularly hairy, leaves are sparsely toothed. Length measures 1 to 4 inches (2.54 to 10.16 centimeters), and width is about 1 inch (2.54 centimeters). Basal leaves, which are at the base of the plant, are the largest.

Flowers, which are white with a width of 1/3 inch (8.46 millimeters), have four petals, which are narrow with blunt tips. Flowers form loose clusters near the top of the stem atop long stalks.

Fruit is borne in dry, elongated pods, characteristic of the mustard family. Known as silique (Latin: siliqua, “seed pod”), these flat pods measure 3 to 4 inches (7.62 to to 10.16 centimeters) in length. The initial straight, horizontal form of the pods soon curves and droops.

Pods consist of outer valves, or walls, which enclose a replum (Latin: replum, “doorcase”), a central partition to which seeds are attached. At maturity the two outer valves of the pod fall off, leaving behind the replum.

Seeds are small with an egg or heart shape. Fine papery wrapping, which rims seeds as wings, encourages wind dispersal.


field and trees covered with kudzu (Pueraria)

near Port Gibson, southwestern Mississippi
near Port Gibson, southwestern Mississippi

Ethnobotany: a terror for kudzu


Kudzu (genus Pueraria), an undaunted vine native to southern Japan and southeast China, has climbed, coiled, and trailed its way to predominance as an undesirably invasive non-native species throughout the southeastern United States.

Virtually unstoppable and uncontrollable because of its rapid growth, kudzu, however, cannot withstand its lethal foe, Myrothecium verrucaria, a fungus hosted by sicklepods.


closeup of sickle-pod flower

Lenawee County, southeastern Michigan
Lenawee County, southeastern Michigan

Sickle-pod: food source at every stage for falcate orangetips


Playing out their lives from beginning to end with sickle-pods, orangetips convey an uncomplicated understanding of their place in their ecosystems. By placing minimal yet precise demands on the quantity of synecological (Greek: σύν, syn, “with” + oικoλoγία, ecologia, “house” + “study”), that is, coexisting, constants, orangetips focus on the quality of the components necessary for their survival.

Unfortunately, the narrow focus of falcate orangetips’ pleasures facilitates adversity, such as life-threatening consequences of diminished nectar sources, which are involved in their own struggles in the food chain and in the cycle of life. For example, sickle-pods have endangered status in Florida and threatened status in New Hampshire.


male falcate orangetip butterfly

illustration by by Willey Ingraham "W.I." Beecroft (born 1870)
illustration by by Willey Ingraham "W.I." Beecroft (born 1870)

Best Nectar Forever (BNF): the sickle-pod and falcate orangetip duet


Unlike some butterflies who find solace for their nectarous cravings from any and all floral candidates, falcate orangetips find pleasure in selectivity. Common blue violets, Virginia bluebells, and sickle-pods all are favored by orangetips as best nectars forever (BNFs).

Interestingly, sickle-pod has the most modest, most retiring, and most unremarkable appearance of these three floral favorites. Yet, the top spot in the triumvirate is occupied, clearly and always, by sickle-pods, which, having won this butterfly’s heart --- or, rather, dorsal tube --- at creation, epitomizes the best nectar forever for falcate orangetips.


male (left) and female (right) falcate orangetips

illustration by Adalbert Seitz (Feb 24, 1860 – March 5, 1938)
illustration by Adalbert Seitz (Feb 24, 1860 – March 5, 1938)



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Male Falcate Orangetip (Anthocharis midea) nectaring on Eastern Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

male falcate orangetip
male falcate orangetip

Sources Consulted


“Anthocharis midea (Falcate Orangetip).” Butterfly and Moth Image Gallery. Illinois State Museum. Web. www.museum.state.il.us

  • Available at:  http://www.museum.state.il.us/ismdepts/zoology/lepidoptera/gallery.html?RollID=roll01&FrameID=Anthocharis_midea

“Arabis canadensis L. sickle-pod.” Plants of Wisconsin: Vascular Plants. 2012. Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Web. wisplants.uwsp.edu

  • Available at:  http://wisplants.uwsp.edu/scripts/detail.asp?SpCode=ARACAN

“Boechera Canadensis (L.) Al-Shehbaz.” Flowering Plants (Angiosperms) > Brassicaceae > Boechera. The Plant List: A Working List of all Plant Species. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden. The Plant List (2010). Version 1. Web. www.theplantlist.org

  • Available at:  http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-2678004 

“Boechera Canadensis (Sickle-pod).” Minnesota Wildflowers. MinnesotaWildflowers.info and Katy Chayka. Web. www.minnesotawildflowers.info

  • Available at:  http://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/sickle-pod

Boyette, C. Douglas. “Science Update: Kudzu KO’d by Fungus.” Agricultural Research Service > News & Events / Science Update. October 2000. U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service. Web. www.ars.usda.gov

  • Available at:  http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct00/sci1000.htm 

Britton, Nathanel Lord, and Addison Brown. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions from Newfoundland to the Parallel of the Southern Boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean Westward to the 102d Meridian. Vol. II: Amaranthaceae to Loganiaceae. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:  http://archive.org/details/illustratedflor02brit

The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language. 10 volumes. New York: Century Co., 1906.

"Falcate Orangetip Anthocharis midea (Hübner, [1809])."  Butterflies and Moths of North America. Butterfly and Moth Information Network, Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus. Web. www.butterfliesandmoths.org

  • Available at:  http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volume I: A-K. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2003.

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press, 1998.

Moerman, Daniel. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2009.

Ortho's All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies. Des Moines IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

Roth, Sally. Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard. Rodale Organic Gardening Book. Emmaus PA: Rodale, 2001.

Seitz, Adalbert, ed. The Macrolepidoptera of the World; A Systematic Description of the Hitherto Known Macrolepidoptera. Vol 5. Stuttgart: Alfred Kernen, 1924.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/macrolepidoptera15seit

“Sicklepod, Arabis canadensis, mustard family (Brassicaceae).” Nature Search > Plants > Wildflowers > White > April-May. 2008. Fontenelle Forest. Web. www.fnanaturesearch.org

  • Available at: http://www.fnanaturesearch.org/index.phpoption=com_naturesearch&task=view&id=17

Stormonth, James. Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language. Fifth edition. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1879.

Tenaglia, Dan. “Arabis canadensis L.” Missouri Plants > White flowers – Leaves Alternate. Dan Tenaglia. Web. www.missouriplants.com

  • Available at:  http://www.missouriplants.com/Whitealt/Arabis_canadensis_page.html 

Weed, Clarence M. Butterflies Worth Knowing. Little Nature Library. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1917.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:  http://biodiversitylibrary.org/item/37738


Falcate orangetip (Anthocharis midea): view of uppersides and undersides of wings

Oconee County, South Carolina
Oconee County, South Carolina
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Custom printed image of Virginia Bluebells as Flowers of Manassas National Battlefield Park

Tees available in light blue, pale pink, grey, or white ~ Toddler sizes in 100% cotton.
Danita Delimont

Falcate Orangetip stamp

also in block: Baltimore checkerspot, California dogface, and Oregon swallowtail
Issued on June 6, 1977 in Indianapolis, IN.

Rainbow Butterfly Dreamcatcher: Pink t-shirt

Rainbow Butterfly Dreamcatcher
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/04/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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