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🌟 Fireflies!

Firefly in my backyard off of Penn Ave.

Living in the city has many wonderful conveniences and benefits, it’s why I've been a city dweller for over half my life. But when summer rolls in, I feel nostalgic for the time I used to live in the country. I grew up in a rural part of New England and I have fond memories of star gazing in fields, swimming in lakes, and best of all watching the fireflies light up in the early evenings.  Now that I live in an urban environment, I’ve found ways to replicate the feelings of summer in the country, right in my backyard.  In my tiny 500 sqft backyard, I’ve grown a pollinator garden packed with native plants that have attracted lots of bees, birds, and over 20 different types of butterflies; but the best part is when the fireflies show up.  Every year starting in mid-June right around dusk we’ll begin to see their magical flashes.

What makes fireflies so cool? 

Fireflies naturally produce bioluminescence which makes them glow and tells predators that they‘re toxic. They exchange flashes to attract a mate, with each species having its own flash pattern used to identify its own kind. When you get a colony of one firefly species, you’ll experience synchronized flashing.  There are only a few places in the world where this happens and Pennsylvania is lucky to be one of those places.  Just under 3 hours from Pittsburgh in the Cook Forest you can experience this rarity and see this synchronized light show.

Photo source: PA Firefly Festival FB page

How do you attract fireflies?

Remember these five things to make an ideal habitat for fireflies: moisture, leaf litter, tall grass, leaf cover, and darkness.  Fireflies like moisture and moist ground to lay their eggs, so having something as small as a birdbath in a yard can help.  Leaf litter attracts the food that fireflies like to eat like snails, worms, and slugs. Tall grass gives fireflies a high point to climb and flash to signal and attract their partner.  Leaf cover protects them during the day from the sun and heat. Keeping it dark at night (where you can) helps the fireflies shine bright and find their mates. 

What flowers and trees support firefly habitat?

Additionally, native flowers and trees can contribute to the firefly habitat by keeping the soil moist while also adding shelter. A few native plants that attract fireflies are asters, goldenrod, and cardinal flowers, and trees like buttonbush and native pines. If you’re looking for a few of these native flowers or trees for your yard, come by this month’s native plant pop-up sale in the East End and pick up your own firefly-friendly plants and trees and bring the magic to your yard.  

Note from the author: This article was also featured in the June 2023 Bulletin, for the Gardening Advice and Earthly Delights column

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