Monday, August 29

leea and the butterflies

(click on the photos for larger pictures please)

Several years ago while birding in Subic, we came across a shrub with bright red flowers that was crawling with several butterflies.  These butterflies were so intent on sipping the nectar of these little flowers that Tere was able to get a photo of them using the macro mode of her point and shoot!  if you look at the picture below, there are at least 5 species of butterflies: several Eurema sp., an Appias sp, a pair of cruisers (V. dejone), satyrids and even skippers!

Tere's 2007 picture of a then unknown butterfly magnet.

Since then we have learned that when we see this plant in bloom, it's a good opportunity to check out the butterflies getting drunk on it and to take decent butte-pics. And I've seen (and looked for) it all over the country, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan!

Some butterflies I've taken pictures of feeding on Leea flowers in Subic (of course, fave nearby birding site):  Caleta, a skipper, Eurema, and another lycaenid. 

In Bangkong Kahoy, Quezon, this mapwing enjoyed perching on the fruit of Leea.

Recently, I finally found out that this wonderful butterfly nectar plant is of the Leea genus, mali-mali in the local dialect. My first internet searches turned up information that it was from, of all places, Africa!  That led me to thinking that it was an introduced species!  I was literally amazed at how it had seemed to distribute itself throughout the Philippines! During my recent visit to Coron, there was on plant hanging on to the limestone face of the entrance to Barracuda Lake! Of course, even in there in the sea, a bright orange butterfly was intent on feeding.
A Leea at the entrance of Barracuda Lake in Coron.

Hah.  The bane of rushed internet searches.  I finally found out today that it is actually indigenous to several countries across the tropics, the Philippines included! Madulid (A Pictorial Cyclopedia of Philippine Ornamental Plants) says that there are actually 13 leea species  in the Philippines. Yahoo! A true local and not introduced.

I stand corrected.

Today, during the club trip to Palay-palay, Adri & I spotted several leea (what a nice name I must say) in bloom!  (Okay, before I proceed, I have to explain that the weather was horrible for birding, the wind was so strong even the brahminy kites seemed to be tossed around like paper airplanes AND...  well, Palay-palay is just not what it used to be, what with the huge concrete road and a tunnel blasted right through one of the mountainsides and settlers with caged birds hanging outside their houses. But that's another story)

At the first plant, I saw several lycaenids (I'm still not so good at butterfly ID) plus a gorgeous lemon yellow spider.  Which of course I promptly pointed out to Adri, Alex, Mai, Tere and anyone who cared to look (remember, there were no birds!).  If it was terrible weather for birding, it was even more horrible to attempt any form of butterfly photography (yes, the weather ruined even the alternative activity!).  The thin leea branches were waving frantically in the wind.  Looking through my bins, I found out that one of the lycaenids (which was bright orange above or "inside") had gotten on the wrong side of the wind as well... and landed straight in the waiting yellow arms of my (now vicious-looking) yellow spider!

This poor lycaenid found death on the leea... the deadly embrace of a yellow spider, strangely perfectly camouflaged in the red flowers.

The other more fortunate Leea drinkers, a couple more lycaenids, a sailor and wasp,  oblivious to the deadly drama (on the left corner of the picture) - blurry picture, sorry! It was too windy.

Another good find on the leea flowers today were at least 3 club silverline butterflies (Spindula syama)!  I love these little yellow lycaenids with silver streaks outlined in black.  And of course their little fake heads!  Again, too windy to get really good shots, but Adri and I were lucky to pull a couple off.

A better photo of the club silverline at last!

It's wonderful to see how nature is interconnected. So next time you see a leea in bloom while birding, try to check what little jewels are hiding in its petals! No harm in squeezing in a little plant/butte-watching!


  1. Nice narrative Trinket! Has anyone tried to grow the Leea? Have you tried getting some branches or looked for wildings around it? I'd love to plant some here in my house!

  2. Thanks for the clarification regarding the Leea! :)

  3. Hi Ixi! I think we've tried to look for wildlings around the shrubs, but weren't successful. They would make good plants to use as ornamentals I think, if they can be cultivated. Great to diversify garden wildlife.

  4. We learn something new everyday Anna. You're very welcome, it was my mistake to begin with :-)

  5. They sell "Red Leea" in the garden shops. I had one before, not sure if it's still around.